Environment

What's happening here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands Journal editorial board
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3-20-08
Merced Sun-Star
County Bank parent company anticipates first loss
CEO Thomas Hawker announces that he will step down when a replacement can be found....LESLIE ALBRECHT

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/190331.html
Shares of Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, were hammered Wednesday following news that the company expects to post its first-ever yearly loss.
Capital Corp said it anticipates it will lose $4 million for 2007.
Shares were trading at $3.76 -- a seven-year low -- when the Nasdaq market closed, a 64 percent decline from the day's opening price. The one-day percentage drop was the largest recorded on any of the major U.S. stock exchanges Wednesday. A year ago, Capital Corp's stock traded at $26.55.
The company blamed its anticipated loss on "the rapid decline in real estate values in California's Central Valley in the fourth quarter of 2007." It was then that Merced led the nation in home-value depreciation, with prices plunging 19 percent between 2007 and 2006, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.
The drop in real estate values means the collateral backing County Bank loans is worth less than it was when the loans were made one or two years ago. Capital Corp must now reclassify those loans as riskier. That, in turn, means the bank must back the reclassified loans with more money than what's required to back more secure loans -- money that comes directly out of Capital Corp's revenue stream, Smith explained...
The loss isn't tied directly to the subprime mortgage meltdown, he added, because County Bank doesn't make many home mortgages or invest in subprime loans. However, the company does lend money to developers buying land, and that land is less valuable than it was a few years ago. "Even though the guy is still paying his loan, by federal law, we have to downgrade the loan because the quality of collateral has gone down," said Smith.
Capital Corp's current problems were foreshadowed in the summer of 2007 when the company reported that a foreclosed loan to a housing developer had put a $5 million dent in its quarterly income compared with the previous year...

3-21-08
Merced Sun-Star
Bank's shares bounce back 72%
Analyst says volatility a reflection of economic conditions and lower Valley real estate values...LESLIE ALBRECHT

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/191875.html
Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, saw its stock rebound strongly Thursday, shooting up 72 percent from the seven-year low it hit earlier this week.
That drop had come after the company announced its first-ever yearly loss. Capital Corp expects to post a $4 million loss for 2007, the result of plunging real estate values.
At the Nasdaq's market close on Thursday, Capital Corp's stock price had risen to $6.48 a share, compared with $3.76 on Wednesday...
On Thursday Capital Corp put the focus on the present, announcing that unaudited internal financial reports from January and February show the bank has adequate capital on hand. The company had previously told federal regulators that it had fallen below what regulators consider "well-capitalized" status.
Joe Morford, a San Francisco-based analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said while the company's projected loss may be unsettling, it's typical of the problems California banks will probably face over the next year, especially in areas hard hit by the real estate slowdown.
"Six to 12 months from now, this is not going to look that unusual," said Morford. "We think there's going to be problems for several other banks both in the Central Valley and throughout the state."
He added, "A big part of the success of a community bank is the strength of its local market. Right now Merced and the Central Valley are having a real tough time. You're seeing the banks share that pain."...
On Wednesday, the company announced that it's forming a committee of board members to oversee bank operations; CEO Thomas Hawker will now report to the committee. Capital Corp also said it's hired financial advisers.
Those moves could be a sign that federal regulators are closely watching the bank, Morford suggested. "It looks like (regulators) are telling the bank that you need to raise capital, and there needs to be some changes in management," said Morford. "The regulators don't want to see County Bank fail, so they're doing what they can to ensure that doesn't happen."
Meanwhile, bank clients sounded a cautiously positive note Thursday. Local builder Bob Rucker, who's both a stockholder and client of County Bank, said he's watching intently. "The whole banking system is going through a major crisis right now with liquidity," said Rucker. "My personal opinion of the bank is that they're very strong and very well-managed, but the (real estate) values declining as rapidly as they did -- it just caught them by surprise."...

3-24-08
Modesto Bee
Valley's smaller banks eluding upheaval in financial industry
Area firms steer clear of most home loans, limiting fallout from crisis...BEN van der MEER

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/248088.html
While giant banks such as Bear Stearns implode as an indirect result of the housing crisis, many of the community banks based in the Northern San Joaquin Valley report being largely insulated from such upheavals.
That's true even after last week, when Merced-based County Bank announced a $4 million loss in 2007, and then saw its stock lose more than half its value in one day before rallying late in the week.
Jeff Burda, president of Modesto Commerce Bank, said most community banks don't make many home loans, including the subprime loans that prompted the recent housing meltdown...
Other banks, like County Bank, may have avoided subprime securities, but made substantial loans to commercial builders. With new housing at a virtual standstill, those builders aren't building, Burda said, and loans aren't being paid...
Credit agencies that monitor banks over time on the basis of criteria such as earnings and liquidity take a more measured stance.
Bankrate.com, a consumer finance Web site, gave five valley community banks, including County, Bank of Stockton and Farmers & Merchants, ratings of three or four stars -- the same ratings most banks receive, with five stars being the best, according to the site...

Chancellor Kang's humility, skills seen as good fit for UC Merced...MICHELLE HATFIELD
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/248077.html
MERCED -- Steve Kang has become a road warrior.
A different kind of leader
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who stepped down as founding chancellor to return to teaching, is remembered for her stiff demeanor and commanding presence. (After going back to the classroom in 2006, Tomlinson-Keasey quietly retired in June, moving to Georgia. She couldn't be reached for comment.)...
Kang said he believes the best leaders are those who earn trust by example.
"You have to be part of a team...
"(Tomlinson-Keasey) never really went to small events. Chancellor Kang goes to everything. I think that's why he's so popular among students," said Brenda Ramirez, a psychology junior.
Goals and plans... Focus on students urged...

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

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

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

Expansion compromise for UC Merced campus...Editorial
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/248069.html
It took six years for the University of California Board of Regents to choose where in the San Joaquin Valley to build its 10th campus. It's already taken more than seven years for UC to figure out how to position the campus and the adjoining community on its selected site east of Merced.
What was the hang-up? Limiting the damage to wetlands and to native plants and animals, such as the bald eagle, fairy shrimp and Colusa grass...
Finally, last year, some meaningful conversations started taking place among UC, the corps and two other federal agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. By October, the university announced it had a revised map that reduced the size of the campus and the placement of the community. Last month, the university submitted its formal permit application, which triggers an environmental review process that typically takes 12 to 14 months...
UC needs the Corps' permit to continue with its long-term campus plans, but it is just as essential that there will be shops, restaurants and other amenities close by for students and staff. Some current students and a number of prospective students complain about the isolation of the campus and how far it is into town.
Downsizing the campus by 100 acres does not reduce the academic choices or activities that UC Merced will offer. In fact, it is appropriate that the campus -- which already has won awards for environmental design and energy conservation -- should have a footprint that does the least possible damage to the environment.
It took too long, but we commend university officials and regulators for reaching what appears to be a good compromise.

If anyone can fix (or help) UC, it's this guy...Short Takes
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/248145.html
The University of California system -- 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories -- is at a crossroads. With its leadership stepping down after five years; with UC's share of the state budget declining; with the economy changing rapidly; and with a need for innovation greater than ever, a new UC president will step into an extremely challenging environment. On top of these long-term issues is the need to recover from the 2005 controversy over administrative bloat and bonuses, stipends, relocation packages and other forms of unreported compensation to top administrators. Then there's California's short-term budget crisis, which will likely require increases in student fees and rethinking of financial aid. Fortunately, in Mark Yudof, a search committee has tapped the right person to serve as the next University of California president. This first-rate constitutional scholar and teacher has served as chancellor of the University of Minnesota system (1997 to 2002) and the University of Texas system (2002 to now). The UC system really needs someone from outside the system to bring in fresh ideas, fresh personnel and shake up old ways of doing business. Yudof is ideally suited to do that. An extremely effective manager, imaginative thinker and savvy political leader, amazingly he still finds time to teach. He knows how to deal with politicians and the state budget process, create endowed professorships, increase financial aid for students and encourage research partnerships. The UC system needs this kind of president. In a reduced and changing presidency, Yudof is perfect. The regents vote Thursday. They should approve him with unanimous enthusiasm.

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Qualified praise for Cardoza’s move to Washington

Submitted: Mar 16, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands editorial board

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

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

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

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

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

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Loose Cheeks, March 10, 2008

Submitted: Mar 10, 2008

Loose Cheeks
FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT

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

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

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

Item #1

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

"Family" means things to the Farm Bureau not always intuitively obvious to urban dwellers, for example, lot splits on ag land to create ranchettes. On p. 12 of the February Merced County Farm Bureau Newsletter,
http://www.mercedfarmbureau.com/pdf/February%202008%20Issue.pdf, the casual reader will find an ad by Century 21 Salvadori Realty, listing three parcels, two 20-acre ranchettes and an 18-acre ranchette. At least two of the three realtors representing the properties, two sisters from the Le Grand area, grew up in "family farming." One of them is a former Farm Bureau director. One ranchette already contains three houses. Another is listed as containing one house and a building site for another, although it is in an "organic"
walnut orchard. On parcels this size, all that is required is a building permit for a second house. The third 20-acre parcel of almonds and one "quaint" dwelling can be purchased together with an adjoining 20-acre parcel in the same varieties of almonds.

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

Item #2

From the Merced County General Plan, Chapter 7:

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


http://www.co.merced.ca.us/planning/pdf/generalplan/chapter7/chapter7.pdf

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

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

6-26-07
Badlands Journal
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=339
Red Menace over Merced
A rouge pall, like the Delta peat fires of old at twilight, hangs over Merced County.
According to Supervisor Mike Nelson, the “socialists” were out this morning at the supervisors’ meeting. A group advocating agricultural preservation were arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella.
And we thought we saw Eugene Debs highballing down the Santa Fe tracks last night.
The Badlands editorial staff investigated, and found at least one ringleader of the agland preservationists has a long history of affiliation with red front groups: the Merced County Chamber of Commerce; American Farmland Trust; the Merced County Farm Bureau; and California Women for Agriculture.
By contrast, Nelson was a union Atwater City fireman for nine years and now draws a public salary from Merced County of over $65,000 a year plus thousands a month in perks, benefits and retirement, beside what the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board pays him to defend special interests from the peril of regulating the worst air pollution in the US. Nelson’s wife is a union public school teacher, drawing a public salary, health and retirement benefits.
We suggest Nelson look again at the red menace hanging over the county. If he can see through the merciless rightwing hypocrisy, he will find it is red ink caused by the reckless, uncontrolled growth approved by majorities of the indemnified supervisors and city councils beholden and in some cases directly benefitting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.
Badlands editorial staff

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

Item #3

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

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

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

Item #4

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

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

3-10-08
Yahoo! News
Vatican lists "new sins," including pollution By Philip Pullella
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080310/hl_nm/pope_sins_dc
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.
The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.
Asked what he believed were today's "new sins," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.
"(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control," he said...Girotti, in an interview headlined "New Forms of Social Sin," also listed "ecological" offences as modern evils...

Item #5

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

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

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

Item #6

New York Times
Fairness on the Farm...Editorial
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/opinion/22fri3.html?_r=1&sq=conservation&st=nyt&oref=sl
ogin&scp=1&pagewanted=print
Against all odds, there is still hope that Congress will produce a halfway decent farm bill, one that increases spending for underfunded programs like food stamps and conservation while decreasing subsidies to rich farmers who have never had it so good.
The reason for hope is President Bush, who has been on the right side of the farm issue from the beginning and is threatening to veto any measure that resembles the stinkers produced by the House and Senate last year.
Some legislators are now scrambling for a better version. Tinkering around the edges will not do it.
Mr. Bush has two sound objections. First, the House and Senate bills, each costing about $280 billion over five years, are way over budget and include an array of gimmicky tax increases to make up the shortfall.
Even worse, the bills perpetuate an unfair, wasteful program of price supports and direct payments. Half the subsidies would go to farmers in just seven states producing a handful of crops — corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat; two-thirds of the nation’s farmers would not benefit at all. Mr. Bush has complained in particular about provisions that allow subsidies to flow to farm families making as much as $2 million a year.
What makes these subsidies even more outrageous is that just when the rest of the country is sliding into recession, commodity prices are booming and big farmers are rolling in clover.
In a rational world, legislators would try to find the cuts Mr. Bush wants in subsidy programs, but little is rational when it comes to farm bills. While some influential members of the House have talked about stricter limits on wealthy farmers, Big Agriculture’s Senate friends say the cuts would have to come from conservation programs.
The food stamp program is not yet on the Senate chopping block, but it, too, is not home free. Congressional leaders may be tempted to see this year’s bill as a way to help farm state incumbents hold onto their seats. The dollar amounts are too large, though, and the fairness issues too stark, to stick with a broken system of farm subsidies.

Item #7

Environmental Working Group Farm Bill 2007: Policy Analysis Database --
http://farm.ewg.org/sites/farmbill2007/

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

Rank Number of Beneficiaries Total

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

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

Item #8

More on subsidized farmers no longer alive
Letters to the Editor
Fresno Bee
July 27, 2007
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=369
Dear Sir or Madam,
The U.S. Department of Agriculture gets my inept federal bureaucracy of the month award for writing subsidy checks to 172,801 dead farmers totaling $1.1 billion dollars during the period from 1999 to 2005. This gives new meaning to the term “buying the farm.”
All the sordid details are available in a report from the Government Accountability Office located at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d071137t.pdf.
Nineteen percent of the deceased subsidy recipients had been dead for seven years or more, while a whopping 40 percent had been dead for three years or more. Even more troubling, someone undoubtedly alive signed and cashed those checks given the considerable difficulty the dead have in signing checks.
There must be plenty of dead San Joaquin Valley farmers on the list given that we are the farming capitol of the nation. They must be chuckling somewhere in the Great Pasture in the Sky that they couldn’t make any money while living but managed to generate some green after they were gone.
Lloyd Carter

Item #9

9-12-07
Merced Sun-Star
Local growers in Washington to push farm bill…Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13780293p-14360810c.html
WASHINGTON…on Capitol Hill, the House Agriculture Committee is poised in coming days to divvy up billions of dollars in a new farm bill… With the House panel planning to write its farm bill over the course of three days next week, Teixeira and several dozen other organic farmers are taking a desperate stab at changing the course of federal agricultural policy. So far, success is elusive. Existing cotton, rice, wheat and corn subsidies would stay essentially the same, under the current bill written by the agriculture committee chairman, Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn. Federal crop subsidies totaled about $17 billion last year. The politically vocal American Farm Bureau Federation likewise supports Peterson’s stay-the-course approach to traditional subsidies, as does the National Milk Producers Federation. California at Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner allies himself with California’s fruit and vegetable growers, who seek a bigger share of the farm bill. The bill coming before the House committee next Tuesday does boost some specialty crop funding. Even so, specialty crop advocates — and organic growers in particular — complain the current House bill shortchanges the fastest-growing sector of U.S. agriculture. “We are looking for a niche,” said Cindy Lashbrook, a Merced County organic farmer who grows blueberries and almonds near Livingston. “We’re looking to be legitimized, in a way.”

Item #10

7-26-07
Badlands Journal

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance lashes Valley agricultural pollution
Water Board Report Shows that Irrigated Agriculture Has Polluted the Delta and Most Central Valley Waterways
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=359
For immediate release:
25 July 2007
(Stockton, CA) The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) has released a landmark draft report presenting the first region-wide assessment of data collected pursuant to the Irrigated Lands Program since its inception in 2003. Data collected from some 313 sites throughout the Central Valley reveals that: 1) toxicity to aquatic life was present at 63% of the monitored sites (50% were toxic to more than one species), 2) pesticide water quality standards were exceeded at 54% of sites (many for multiple pesticides), 3) one or more metals violated criteria at 66% of the sites, 4) human health standards for bacteria were violated at 87% of monitored sites and 5) more than 80% of the locations reported exceedances of general parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, salt, TSS). While the adequacy of monitoring (i.e., frequency and comprehensiveness) of monitoring varied dramatically from site to site, the report presents adramatic panorama of the epidemic of pollution caused by the uncontrolled discharge of agricultural wastes.
The report is posted on the Regional Board’s website at:
http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/programs/irrigated_lands/index.html#Monito

Item #11

9-23-07
San Franciso Chronicle
Yes, San Francisco is in the land of cotton subsidies...Carolyn Lochhead
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/09/23/MNH1S5I9N.DT
L&type=politics
Los Banos, Merced County -- San Francisco is famous for its cotton farmers. Or at least one of them.
At last count, the largest California recipient of federal farm subsidies is the city's Constance Bowles Peabody, 88, a wealthy heiress of pioneer California cattle baron Henry Miller.
Peabody and her now-deceased brother George "Corky" Bowles, collected $2.4 million in cotton subsidies from 2003 to 2005, according to federal data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, which opposes the subsidies.
Actually, so does Philip Bowles, her son, who has run the family's farm operation for more than a quarter-century.
Asked why he should get subsidies, Bowles replied, "Why should anybody?"
A former Yale drama student who once made television commercials, Bowles operates the family's 13,000-acre cotton, alfalfa and tomato farm in Los Banos, where the city fathers erected a statue of his great-great-grandfather in the town plaza.
"The money that we do get from the government I look at as a form of liquidated damages," Bowles said as he drove through his fields, certain that the quality of his cotton and the efficiency of his farm would, if put to the test, obliterate his competitors in the Mississippi Delta and Texas...

Item #12

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

Item #13

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

Item #14

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

Item #15

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

3-8-08
Merced Sun-Star
Please trust this about our sports section...Steve Cameron
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/194/story/174299.html
Hey, this is an historic election, so...
...I've been in this business a long time, and I can tell you without a question of doubt that we don't ever make editorial decisions while wondering if a few more people might plunk 50 cents into a box.The only time we sell extra papers is well-advertised, and it's because you ask for it.
For instance, if a local high school wins a district football championship, we might print a special eight-page commemorative edition. Maybe. But that's it.
After hearing that woman on CNN, I'm not sure the public actually will believe this, but I want it on record.
We make editorial decisions for lots and lots and lots of different reasons. Selling a dozen extra papers at Save Mart ain't one of them. And never will be.

Item #16

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

3-8-08
Merced Sun-Star
Despite '03 law, shopping carts still clutter landscape...DOANE YAWGER...3-8-08
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/174311.html

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

Item #17

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

3-7-08
Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced leaders plead for budget mercy
Assembly panel meets on the campus to hear university's stance on funding...VICTOR A. PATTON
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/172967.html
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang on Thursday likened the university to a "baby" -- one that still "needs milk" and tender loving care to survive.
Translation for state legislators: UC Merced "cannot afford any budget cuts"...

Item #18

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

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Help support family farmers who protect endangered species habitat

Submitted: Mar 07, 2008

From The Endangered Species Coalition:

You can help family farmers protect endangered plants and animals on their land. Please call your Member of Congress and ask them to support the Endangered Species Recovery Act and incentives for landowners to save endangered species.

Help support family farmers who protect endangered species habitat.

Congress has a great opportunity to help at-risk wildlife, with a new bill called the Endangered Species Recovery Act (S. 700/H.R. 1422). This legislation will provide farmers, ranchers, family forest owners and other landowners with the financial tools they need to protect the hundreds of endangered animal and plants.

The Senate has already passed the companion bill in the Senate Farm Bill tax package. This means that the time is ripe for the House of Representatives to move this important piece of legislation as quickly as possible.

Call your member of Congress and ask them to support the Endangered Species Recovery Act. The Capitol Switchboard is (202) 224-3121. Ask for your Representative's office.

Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support the Endangered Species Act. However, the Act is chronically under-funded in regard to recovery planning and habitat restoration--especially on private lands. More funding is needed to save America's endangered wildlife.

For more information, visit www.stopextinction.org/farmers

Thanks for your help to protect endangered species,

Leda Huta
Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition

The Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is a national network of 380 conservation, scientific, sporting, religious, humane, business and community groups across the country. Through public education, scientific information and citizen participation, we work to protect our nation's wildlife and wild places. The ESC is a non-partisan coalition working with concerned citizens and decision makers from all parties to protect endangered species and habitat

Endangered Species Coalition
PO Box 65195
Washington, DC 20035
(202) 320-6467

www.stopextinction.org

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Concerning UC/Lawrence Livermore National Lab bombs over Tracy

Submitted: Mar 06, 2008

Organizing / Planning Meeting in Tracy on MARCH 6

Public Hearing in Tracy on MARCH 18

STOP THE BOMBPLEX

Please circulate widely. Please come. It's crucially important.

An important invitation for you:

A TRACY ORGANIZING / MOBILIZING / PLANNING MEETING TO STOP THE "BOMBPLEX," NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND WAR

We've found the Weapons of Mass Destruction! Five years ago, the U.S. attacked Iraq based on flimsy allegations of non-existent WMDs. Now, the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released new plans to modernize and "revitalize" the U.S. nuclear weapons research and production complex at 8 locations across the country, including at the Livermore Lab's Site 300 in Tracy. The DOE calls the plan, "Complex Transformation."

We call it "Bombplex." Tri-Valley CAREs and allied organizations are calling on all anti-nuclear, anti-war, environmental, and peace and justice activists to turn the "Bombplex" public hearings into a national public referendum on the future of nuclear weapons.

Here is where you come in. We are holding a special organizing / mobilizing / planning meeting in Tracy and calling on key activists and organizations to participate. Our goal is to take action together to MOBILIZE a large and powerful turnout at upcoming public hearings in Tracy (March 18 - see below for hearing time and location) and Livermore (March 19 - the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war).

Planning Meeting in Tracy:
Thursday, March 6th, 7 PM to 8:30 PM, Tracy Community Center, 300 East 10th
Street, Tracy. To RSVP or obtain details, call Marylia at (925) 443-7148 or email marylia@earthlink.net.

Note: Also at the Tracy Community Center on March 6, beginning at 6 PM, there will be a Dept. of Energy (DOE) workshop on the Superfund cleanup of toxic contaminants at the Building 850 "Firing Table" at Site 300. This Firing Table is one of four highly polluted locations where open-air bomb blasts have been (and still are) detonated at Site 300. The DOE workshop will feature posters about the cleanup (not speakers), so you can pop in and see the displays before the "Bombplex" organizing meeting at 7 PM. (And, if you think that pollution from bomb tests is relevant to why we must stop the "Bombplex," you are correct.)

Planning Meeting in Livermore, too:
Thursday, February 21, 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM, at Tri-Valley CAREs, 2582 Old
First Street, Livermore, CA. To RSVP or obtain details, call Marylia at (925) 443-7148.

Elements for each organizing meeting will include:
* What is Bombplex? A primer on nuclear weapons programs embedded in this plan, followed by a discussion on what YOU want to emphasize at the Tracy hearing.
* How do we stop it? Ideas to make the hearings successful, powerful and effective.
* Who can we mobilize? A structured outreach brainstorm to accomplish our goals.
* What's next? A broader discussion on nuclear disarmament action beyond the hearings.

"Bombplex" Action Alert for Newsletters, etc.

Public Hearings on the Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex!

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released its draft plan to revitalize the nuclear weapons complex at 8 locations across the country, including Livermore Lab. The DOE calls the plan "Complex Transformation" (formerly known as "Complex 2030"). We call it "Bombplex."

The draft plan is in the form of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). The most important thing to know is that the plan is fundamentally about the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons research and production complex. Do you want to see a revitalized weapons complex with added capabilities to research, develop, test and produce new and militarily modified nuclear bombs? Or, do you want to see the U.S. fully comply with its legal obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Don't be silent at this critical juncture. Your voice is needed now. Make the hearings a public referendum on nuclear weapons. At the hearings, you can speak on the changes you want to see at Livermore Lab, or on U.S. nuclear weapons policy writ large. You can speak out to stop polluting nuclear weapons activities at the Livermore Lab main site and its Site 300 in Tracy. You can tell the government to stop new nuclear weapons, like the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which the DOE is still pushing for with $40 million in its latest budget request. You can call on the government to end ALL bomb testing at Site 300. Tell DOE not to detonate depleted uranium, high explosives and other toxic and radioactive materials on open-air Firing Tables that are already polluted from past use. Tell DOE that plans to conduct even bigger bomb blasts under a "for hire" program for the Department of Homeland Security is unacceptable. You may also wish to point to the U.S. hypocrisy in planning to produce new weapons of nuclear mass destruction on the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Come and speak your truth to power. Choose the peace issues that are most meaningful to you. There will also be a 90-day period for written public comments. Public hearings are:

Tuesday March 18, 2008 -- Tracy, California
Holiday Inn Express, 3751 N. Tracy Blvd. One session only: 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

Wednesday March 19, 2008 - Livermore, California
Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave. 2 sessions: 11 a.m.-3p.m. and 6 p.m. -10 p.m.

Comments may be submitted by mail to:
Mr. Theodore Wyka, Complex Transformation SPEIS Document Manager, Office of
Transformation, NA-10.1, U.S. Department of Energy/NNSA, 1000 Independence
Avenue, SW. Washington, D.C. 20585
Or by fax: (703) 931-9222 (request confirmation of receipt)
Or by e-mail: ComplexTransformation@nnsa.doe.gov (request confirmation of receipt)

More info at -- www.trivalleycares.org o www.wslfweb.org o www.peaceactionwest.org

Marylia Kelley,
Executive Director

Tri-Valley CAREs
2582 Old First Street
Livermore, CA 94551

Ph: (925) 443-7148
Fx: (925) 443-0177
Web: www.trivalleycares.org
Email: marylia@trivalleycares.org or marylia@earthlink.net

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To medschool, the verb defined

Submitted: Feb 29, 2008

American Dictionary of Flak

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

Newsletter of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced
A Medical School at UC Merced‏
From: Dennis Cardoza (dennis.cardoza@congressnewsletter.net)
Sent: Thu 2/28/08 2:15 PM
http://by135w.bay135.mail.live.com/mail/ReadMessageLight.aspx?Aux=4%7c0%7c8CA486E8B838230%7c&FolderID=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&InboxSortAscending=False&InboxSortBy=Date&ReadMessageId=64149d73-2503-4ede-aa14-693646385e85&n=1626137675

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

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Raptor, POW and Citizens group defeat RMP in court

Submitted: Feb 26, 2008

MERCED CA (February 26, 2008) – Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water (POW) and Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources defeated Merced County and the Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP) in Merced County Superior Court.

In her decision on the suit against the Merced County Board of Supervisors’ approval of the RMP environmental impact report (EIR) in December 2006, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphreys ruled that, “Judgment be entered in favor” of the petitioners , Merced County certification of the EIR be “vacated,” and a peremptory writ of mandate be issues “under seal of this court ordering the County and RMP:

“a.Immediately on receipt of the Writ set aside and void its approvals of RMP and refrain from further approvals unless and until it undertakes further environmental review to correct the deficiencies in the EIR …

“b. Make and file a return to Court upon taking a final action to certify the EIR and reconsider the Project setting further what the County has done to comply with the Writ.”

Judge Humphreys ruled that in the absence of a development agreement and a community benefits agreement “that have not been drafted,” the project EIR was deficient “as an informational document,” therefore neither the public nor the county Board of Supervisors had adequate knowledge of the project to make a decision on the EIR.

Attorney Gregory Maxim, speaking on behalf of himself and co-counsel Julia Garcia, both of the Roseville law firm Sproul Trost, said: "This ruling is a great victory for both the citizenry of Merced County, and in support of the CEQA process. The Court's ultimate remedy in this ruling has made clear that the County failed in its mandates under law, and that the public was denied the opportunity to consider the full potential of environmental impacts of this project."

Lydia Miller, president of San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, said: “We are extremely grateful for the excellent representation Raptor, POW and the Citizens group received from Gregory Maxim, Julia Garcia, Sproul and Trost and Marsh Burch, Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney on this case. This decision revokes the EIR and associated approvals and forces the County and RMP back to the drawing board.”

For further information contact:

Lydia Miller GREGORY L. MAXIM
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center Attorney at Law
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax Sproul Trost LLP
(916) 783-6262 tel

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center

Protect Our Water

Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources

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Regarding sheds

Submitted: Feb 18, 2008

A number of years ago a state forester was interviewed concerning changes in the culture of his agency following the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and kindred legislation regarding the forests. He said, "I knew I was in a different world when bureaucrats started talking about 'viewsheds.'"

The term 'viewshed' indicated that the public had made the aesthetic pleasure of looking at a stretch of forest unblemished by clearcuts a value in the resource bureaucracy by the late 1970's, not just a conservationist howl to the moon. The term, 'watershed,' is older:

"line separating waters flowing into different rivers," 1803, from water + shed. A loan-translation of Ger. Wasser-scheide. Fig. sense is attested from 1878. Meaning "ground of a river system" is from 1878.
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=watershed

Yesterday, in a meeting in Los Banos concerning funding for local management efforts in the state's many watersheds, an interesting conversation broke out regarding the state of San Joaquin Valley agriculture and its future. The vision put forth by a Merced County planning commissioner favored organic agriculture (the commissioner owns an organic farm) and local food system (the commissioner is also a boardmember of organizations advancing this vision).

A member of the group without vision put forth the view that the Valley could probably feed itself on about a third of the farmland now in cultivation but that the problem a planning commissioner ought to be "envisioning" is what will happen to the remaining two-thirds of the farm and ranch land, the economy of which -- as is certainly the case with the county's almond industry -- is based on large-scale exportation. Export-led growth, to eastern US markets and expanding to international markets has been the basis for the Valley's agricultural economy since the early years of the last century and the cropping pattern remains largely the same, although the populations of county seats and some of the other hamlets of that period have swollen enormously. The visionless viewpoint was also advanced that if the same amount of acreage in production today in the same crops, in the same concentration, attracting the same swarms of pests specific to those crops, were converted to organic orchards and rowcrops, it would do very little but destroy the organic market and many of the growers engaged in it. One also wondered silently how long it would be before "organic" pesticide regulations were relaxed to include pesticides perhaps not quite as organic as they were purported by their manufacturers to be.

The vision quest for consensus-based environmental reform through analyses that change from year to year, mirroring environmental disintegration, seems to some to be not a very serious enterprise.

At this point, the planning commissioner, demonstrating leadership skills, put a new term on the table, 'foodshed.' The purpose of this bit of jargon du moment seemed to be to return the conversation to watersheds, and grants for watershed coordinators, another of which the commissioner is writing to fund her valuable political work of going to more meetings where she will learn yet more vital analytical tools like the term, foodshed.

Fleeing the mindless Jargon Monster, another participant tried to address the problem of how to treat the land retired from farming so that the Valley will only grow enough food to feed itself -- and organically! Will it all go to housing?

Or should much of the retired land be preserved as open space, restored to wildlife habitat, provide better and cleaner groundwater recharge? it was asked. Later, it was recalled that on the west side at least, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of land that should be retired because they are full of toxic heavy metals as the result of totally reckless, resource-destroying irrigation, and that it would be hard to restore it to livable wildlife habitat. Facilitators returned the meeting to the topic of watersheds and whether the state should reinvest in watershed coordinator programs on the Merced River watershed.

Some in the room advanced the idea that the state agencies ought to spend the money on their own staffs to inventory and map the amount of land already in state easements through the State Lands Commission among other agencies and enforce existing laws and regulations rather than fund watershed coordinators who broker rather than share information concerning the Merced River watershed for their own financial gain. In other words, the evidence is in that these Reaganesque localizing, privatizing programs merely induce an annual grant-writing feeding frenzy inherently corrupting in local publics because the regulation of natural resources is properly and adequately only as a state function. Local publics ought to be monitoring state and federal governments to do their job in their areas. If it is necessary to go around elected officials in the pockets of finance, insurance and real estate special interests who pressure resource agencies, then it should be done. That is a function the public can do better than it can manage watersheds under the legal jurisdiction of state and federal resource agencies and the mandate of the Public Trust Doctrine.

Driving home from the meeting, through field after field in early preparation for another crop of cotton, participants realized they were driving through a 'fibershed,'interrupted occasionally by various 'cowsheds,' 'poultrysheds' and possibly one 'goatshed.'

Returning the next day to the problem -- What would happen to all the farm and ranch land retired if the Valley should swing away from export-led growth to a local food supply? -- another idea occurred to participants of the stimulating meeting in Los Banos: Why not speciessheds?

What about a vernalpoolshed? A San Joaquinkitfoxshed? A Californiatigersalamandershed? Why not a mangycoyoteshed? Despite a great deal of government policy to the contrary, empirical evidence suggests that wildlife species require wildlife habitat, in fact a good description of a speciesshed would be the natural habitat required by that species in order to live, have a home in the world.

So, now when one looks at a field of seasonal pasture containing vernal pools, cows, coyotes and other wildlife species, one knows he is actually looking at a multi-speciesshed, not a cattle ranch. And as the urban resident gazes across the street from his door, he realizes that he is observing an 'alleycatshed.' Downtown, one realizes he is looking at a 'decayingurbancentershed.' When observing the many half-finished new subdivisions that ring this town, one realizes he is looking at 'foreclosuresheds.'

Leaders like the planning commissioner, superbly trained by the Great Valley Center/UC Merced leadership programs, are constantly bringing us valuable new analytical tools like this, language that will permit our vision to soar and transcend reality, the present, the past and the future. so that we, too, may glide far above this 'littlebluemarbleshed' in a beautiful "Bullship."

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Local groups defeat Merced County/Black Diamond Aggregates Mining Project in court

Submitted: Feb 12, 2008

Merced CA (February 12, 2008) – A Merced County Superior Court ruled on February 7 against respondents Merced County Board of Supervisors approval of the Black Diamond Aggregates project. Petitioners in the California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit were Merced-based San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Modesto-based Protect Our Water.

Judge John D. Kirihara ruled that a writ of mandate would be issued to "vacate and set aside the approval of ...the project."

Judge Kirihara agreed with petitioners that the County had abused its discretion in its failure to consider the "fair argument test" in the California Environmental Quality Act that the project may have significant environmental impacts. He noted that the supervisors ignored two letters from resource agencies (state Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and numerous expressions of public concern about potential damage the project might do to the Merced River and adjacent irrigation. There was "substantial evidence in the record" to support the fair argument that the project might have significant environmental impact, he wrote.

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water challenged the Merced County Board of Supervisors’ approval on Dec. 19, 2006 of a mitigated negative for Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc., a mine close to the Merced River near Snelling owned by Reed Family Vineyards, LLC, and The Reed Leasing Group, LLC of Modesto.

The writ of mandate challenged the supervisors’ Dec. 19, 2006 adoption of the mitigated negative declaration, the General Plan amendment, rezoning, modifications to the mine reclamation plan, and major modifications to the existing mine’s conditional use permit.

Essentially, the County permitted Black Diamond to mine up to 25 feet below the surface of a mine in the Snelling dredge tailings, originally permitted to mine only to grade level and reclaim the site as grazing land. Under Black Diamond and the County’s reclamation scheme, 25-foot deep mining pits would have filled with water to create "open space" and “wildlife habitat” (at least until the next big flood).

The County ignored letters from two state and one federal resource agency that the Black Diamond project would have a significant impact on the hydrology and water supply of this area, rezoned out of the Snelling Rural Residential Center (RRC) No. 1 Residential and Agricultural zone. The project is two miles from downtown Snelling and about a half a mile from the Merced River.

The County adopted no mitigation measures on hydrology and water supply before the supervisors approved the project.

At the time of filing in January 2007, petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water said: “Respondents violated their duty to prepare a legally adequate environmental impact report as required by CEQA.”

“This aggregate company, deeply involved with the destruction of the Tuolumne River, has now come to the Merced River and proposed a strip mine in the dredge tailings,” said Lydia Miller, president of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center. “The planning department, project proponents and the supervisors tried to sneak the multiple violations of CEQA in this project through on a very crowded agenda at the end of the year despite a petition signed by 60 Snelling residents against it. This county government is encouraging outside special interests to run roughshod over its citizens and its natural resources.

“We were represented by the skilled, experienced environmental law firm of Don Mooney and Marsha Burch,” Miller added.

For further information contact:

Lydia Miller
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Merced
(209) 723-9283

Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney
MARSHA A. BURCH
Davis, California
(530) 758-2377

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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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