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

Submitted: Dec 07, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hu commented, “corrupt system.”

Drake: They change people and projects are left unfinished.

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

Wade: We should have asked Rhonda Reed.

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

Weber: Adaptive management is the key.

Ratzlaff: our suggestions weren’t followed.

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

Ezio Sansone: The pulse is for temperature?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sullivan: Let’s plant trees.

Miller: Like Chris Robinson did?

Fisherman wants a healthy anadromous fishery.

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

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

Bill Thompson (couldn’t understand his comment)

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

Biologist from McConnell/Hatfield parks introduces herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weber called it “dishonorable.”

Lashbrook called it “heinous.”

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

Lashbrook interrupts. Her comment was unclear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller: “It depends.”

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

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

Miller: “It’s called environmental review.”

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

Miller:” The RCD allotted more for facilitation.”

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

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

Sansoni: “Where do you want to go?”

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

Sansoni brought up the letterhead issue again.

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

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

Sansoni: “You cannot speak for the MRS.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money for whom, some stakeholders wondered.

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

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

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

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

Meeting adjourned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands Journal editorial board

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

Submitted: Dec 01, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands Journal editorial board

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

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

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

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

Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

Dennis Cardoza

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

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

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Department of Interior admits MacDonald wrongdoing

Submitted: Nov 27, 2007

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


November 27, 2007

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

Communications Director
Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House of Representatives

Rahall: Interior Concedes MacDonald Meddled with Science

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

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

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

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

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

Contact: Leda Huta, (202) 320-6467

Sarah Matsumoto (510) 520-1004


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sarah Matsumoto
Deputy Director
Endangered Species Coalition
Oakland, CA
(510) 520-1004

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Wade resigns presidency of East Merced Resource Conservation District

Submitted: Nov 21, 2007

Bernard Wade, president of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, resigned his office and board membership at the monthly EMRCD meeting Wednesday afternoon.

At a very tense meeting of the Merced River Stakeholders Monday, Wade, who has a riverfront property near Snelling, attempted several times to inject an element of rational explanation into the argument between MRS stakeholders and the EMRCD. The attack on the stakeholders by three of the five EMRCD board members attending the MRS meeting was led as usual by Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook, who is also a paid staffer for the EMRCD and the Merced River Alliance and owns a farm on the river.

The speculation is that the EMRCD would not tolerate Wade's continual polite friendliness to members of the river stakeholders groups, even those who opposed the EMRCD grant as little more than a staff gravy train.

He closed his short letter of resignation to the EMRCD board with a line from Shakespeare: "The fault is not in our stars... but in ourselves."

Bernard Wade is a gentleman whose good manners, friendliness, ability to listen and tolerance of disagreement will be sorely missed in Merced County public affairs.

Badlands Journal editorial board

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason. Umberto Eco, ternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt

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Unasked questions about TNC Staten Island

Submitted: Nov 17, 2007

Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, sicced the state auditor on a Natural Conservancy-owned ranch near the San Joaquin Delta recently. Maze says the easement and TNC management of the 9,200-acre ranch stink and asks why $17.6 million in state flood protection funds is being spent on a Delta island that shows no signs of levee improvement.

The money came from Prop. 13, passed in March 2000, originally AB 1584, the $1.97-billion Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Act authored by then Assemblman Mike Machado, D-Linden.

The Sacramento Bee article on the flap fails to raise several important questions.

For example, quite aside from the issue of who funded the project, would TNC be able to build flood-control levees according to the terms of its conservation easement on Staten Island, winter home of a TNC-estimated 15 percent of the migratory Sand Hill cranes? The plan, as best we can determine from the article is to flood the island in the winter after the grain crops are harvested to make a pleasant habitat for the traveling cranes and other flocks. Some in Merced familiar with the quality of the TNC conservation easements to mitigate for UC Merced know that TNC is not shy about taking public funds for easements that cannot stand the light of public scrutiny. And so does the state Department of Fish and Game, the Wildlife Conservation Board and UC.

Another example of questions unasked is: how much money did TNC contribute to get Prop. 13 passed? According to CalVoter archives for the March 7, 2000 primary, although no funds were recorded in opposition to the proposition, $10,502,802 were spent selling it. (Sixty-five percent of the voters approved it.) TNC, the top contributor to the Prop. 13 campaign, gave $3,022,068 -- 29 percent of all money raised for the proposition. TNC was also the top contributor, with the same amount, to Prop. 12, the Parks, Water and Coastal Protection Act Bond, according to CalVoter.

It is also a matter of political curiosity that Staten Island is on the border of Machado's present state Senate district.

Three million to make $35 million (the other half of the Staten Island funding comes from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program) isn't a bad deal if you have the $3 million to put down when the time is right. And TNC did and no doubt made many friends among the state and federal agencies in charge of dispensing these public funds. A similar return on investment could no doubt be traced to some of the other top 10 contributors to the Prop. 13 campaign.

If this background is added to the particulars of Maze's Tulare County district, represented in Congress by Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, Scourge of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement that passed its first hurdle in Congress last week, perhaps the story below becomes clearer as part of the general California water war. But it is also evidence of the very arrogant way in which the multi-national environmental Leviathan TNC does business (as we have seen in Merced County), it gives bushwhackers like Maze their opportunity, it encourages every grant grifter in the tules to whip up a group of bogus stakeholders and write the state for the big bucks, and it darkens the reputation in the general public of every environmental group trying to do a decent job in a lawful, socially responsible way.

Bill Hatch

Sacramento Bee
Quiet island in dispute
Use of state flood grants to buy land scrutinized...Judy Lin

STATEN ISLAND – This time of year, when the sun falls earlier by the day and the corn has been harvested, is the best time to see the sandhill cranes.

The sky above a stretch of flooded farmland on this island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta becomes speckled with white and pale gray birds.

The creatures – distinguished by long legs and longer necks – come to roost on this wetland each winter. Some have been spotted for at least 18 years.

Conservationists tout the 9,200-acre island, located south of Walnut Grove in San Joaquin County, as a successful marriage between wildlife and agriculture. They applaud the state Department of Water Resources for its willingness to invest in wildlife preservation.

But a recent state audit has raised questions about the department's decision to hand $17.6 million in flood protection bond money to a non-governmental organization that emphasizes habitat protection over flood control.

State Auditor Elaine Howle stressed the need for better monitoring as the department gets ready to dole out $330 million in additional flood protection bonds.

"DWR needs to do a better job of managing the flood protection corridor program," Howle said in an interview. "We found several weaknesses in awarding the grant, as well as monitoring how well those programs are proceeding."

The audit, which was released Nov. 5, said the department failed to show the merits of five grants in 2001, including the $17.6 million Staten Island grant. The grants, which totaled $28 million in all, were funded through the Flood Protection Corridor Program, created by Proposition 13 in 2000.

DWR Director Lester Snow agreed the department needs to do a better job of tracking grants and decisions. The audit was especially critical of the department, then under former director Tom Hannigan, for not using a scoring tool that would have ranked projects based on their merit.

Snow said more staff members have since been assigned to the program.

The Staten Island grant helped the Nature Conservancy buy the island for $35 million. The California Bay-Delta Authority put up the rest of the money.

In return for the department's investment, the state retains easement rights for flood projects.

Keeping the land undeveloped gives Staten Island the potential to absorb water in case of a flood, said Dawit Zeleke, regional director for the Nature Conservancy. The water around the island is fed by the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers.

"When I look at the cranes, I think it's a wise investment," Zeleke said.

Some believe the money should never have been spent on buying Staten Island.

Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, who called for the audit, took notice of Staten Island in 2005 after reading a story in The Bee about the precarious nature of levee funding. At the time, the story found that only six of the 26 miles of levees surrounding Staten Island had been maintained.

"It should not have been used for that project whatsoever," Maze said.

Since then, the audit found that not much has improved.

"Six years after Nature Conservancy acquired Staten Island, Water Resources has yet to implement a flood protection project on the island, and it is unclear whether the acquisition will ultimately result in a tangible flood protection project," the audit states.

The audit also questioned the department's contention that the island provides significant flood protection by preventing development in a flood-prone area, given what the audit called "the current legal restrictions prohibiting such development."

Snow, however, defends the department's selection of Staten Island.

Snow said funding from Proposition 13 allowed the department to acquire easements to protect floodplains while preserving the agricultural use of the property.

"The Staten Island project," Snow said, "clearly meets the statutory criteria for the program."

In addition to questioning the Staten Island grant, Howle recommended changing the grant selection process to require the department to justify the merits of each project. She also recommended following up to make sure grant recipients spent the money appropriately.

Auditors said they had no way to review the selection committee's decisions. Of 11 projects the department considered funding, five were selected without proof of a competitive process.

Snow said he intends to adopt a ranking system for future flood protection projects as the department prepares to hand out new bond money.

Last November, voters approved two bond measures – propositions 84 and 1E – that provide the department with $330 million for flood protection projects. The money has been designated for the protection, creation and enhancement of flood protection corridors and bypasses.

At Staten Island, the Nature Conservancy says the state's investment allows the farm to export nearly 40,000 tons of corn a year and provide a home for up to 15 percent of the region's greater sandhill cranes, which are listed as a threatened species.

The cycle is simple. Farmers grow corn and wheat during the year, then flood the land after crops are harvested, creating a haven for cranes and other birds.

The cranes that winter on the island are playful. On a dirt road cutting through the farm, Zeleke looks out on the birds as they throw their heads up, fan their wings and occasionally toss grass.

"This is the ideal situation," Zeleke said. "You have the economy benefiting ... and also managing the land in a successful way that the cranes keep coming back."



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Open Letter #2 to UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang

Submitted: Oct 22, 2007

Badlands Journal editorial board replies to Chancellor Kang's October 5 Message to Faculty and Staff

 Read More »
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Public Minutes: The Tehachapi Silver Bullet

Submitted: Oct 12, 2007

On October 10, the Merced Land Alliance, Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, Citizens for Intelligent Growth and the Merced County Farm Bureau co-hosted a presentation by Holly Hart, executive director of the Smart Growth Coalition of Kern County. Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the farm bureau, introduced Hart, “a dynamic presenter.” Pedrozo set the stage by noting that a number of parallel planning processes were going on around Merced County at the moment: the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the Merced County General Plan Update, the Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley, city general-plan updates, lawsuits and legal decisions regarding the Friant Dam and the Delta Smelt. These processes are going on simultaneously, but is there any coordination among them, she asked. Pedrozo concluded her introduction of Hart by saying that the sponsors of the presentation and Hart are offering an alternative to lawsuits.

Hart described the Smart Growth Coalition of Kern County as a 15-year-old group of representatives from agriculture, oil, insurance, banks and former politicians that had met their original goals by 2004 and have developed a new strategic plan, taking note of their mistakes. The essence of the new strategic plan Hart announced, presumably the key to the elusive grail of Smart Growth: design communities, don’t plan them.

“If you change one thing, you change all …” she said. (She meant if you change from planning communities, to designing them, all things will change.)

The Badlands Journal editorial board out of idle curiosity did a short web search on Hart, discovering among other things that she is listed by the state Labor Market Information service as the owner of a firm called Giraffix Design and Productions, whose business involves “organizing, promoting, and/or managing events such as business or trade shows, conventions, conferences and meetings …”

Hart is also a school board member in her community, Tehachapi, a city of about 8,000 that is 4,000 ft in altitude on the Tehachapi Pass between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, about 50 miles east of I-5 and the Grapevine. While air quality is not great in Tehachapi, neither is it in the bottom five in the nation, like its county seat, Bakersfield, or the worst in the nation, like Arvin at the foot of the Grapevine.

Hart is also an active Kern County Democrat and a graduate of the UC/Great Valley Center’s Institute for the Development of Emerging Area Leaders (IDEAL).

Hart said the Kern County smart growth group has four current goals.

First, is integrating all global information systems (GIS) maps so that different planning (or designing) jurisdictions will have access to all GIS data produced about their regions.

Second was something she called, “Infrastructure First!” However, she qualified this by saying that this infrastructure must accommodate the needs of people in the 21st century: high-speed access (computers, railroads or both); movement of goods and commuters; high quality libraries (the artists in Tehachapi require film labs and recording equipment, presumably available in publicly funded libraries).

Fourth (third got lost in the dynamism somewhere): Outreach. According to Hart’s information, planners are saying that they need “grassroots outreach.”

Hart believes that “we” (an unclear reference in this context) have become accustomed to fighting against (whether things, development, plans was not clear) and we need to start fighting for something. The Central Valley has been left behind “forever,’ Hart said. Yet, today, it has more resources and attention than it has ever had. “Use it, act on it, don’t question it!” Hart urged us.

The San Joaquin Valley is the epicenter of an international credit crisis caused by a huge speculative real estate boom that busted, caused in turn by the availability of relatively cheap farmland for sale to build subdivisions for commuters to the Bay Area and LA. It has indeed received a great deal of attention from developers and their bought-and-sold state Legislature in recent years. As for its degraded and rapidly deteriorating natural resources and environment, which has become – emphatically so in Kern County—a public health and safety issue, the only attention that aspect of the Valley has received has been thanks to lawsuits. In a sense, however, Hart is right: there are no questions left. The only solution is all-out citizen resistance to finance, insurance and real estate special interests and to the politicians and local land-use authorities they control, which created the perfect economic vortex: the highest foreclosure rate in the nation.

We need the information to change our future, Hart said, launching into her biography: a degree in industrial design with an emphasis in the design of public space. Her first job was at the Epcot Center at Disney World. “We can build great cities,” Hart said she realized on that, her first, project. Later she worked in Singapore, for a Houston-based firm, 3D International. Starting in the 1950’s 3D grew up with Houston, rapidly merged and acquired different companies to become an international construction, architecture and design company. According to Hart, 3D “helped (Singapore) find its vision … now it is a first-world country.”

Badlands Journal editors scratched their heads but could not come up with a country less like the San Joaquin Valley than Singapore, a city state, second most densely populated country on the globe, dominated by Chinese immigrants on sixty-three islands at the end of the Malay Peninsula -- although several argued that the Epcot Center at Disney World, FL was actually more unlike the San Joaquin Valley.

However, Hart was announcing the grand theme of the evening: Smart Growth! “We’ve been given the opportunity to control our own destiny,” she said. “If we believe it, it will be so.” Therefore, we should embrace the Valley Blueprint, the Partnership, etc. (and not question them because we’ve been given the opportunity to control our own destiny and if we believe that, it will be so.”

Next, Hart took us for an exhilarating flight through the History of Planning, starting with the Industrial Revolution, complete with pictures of slums beside satanic mills. A bizarre twist in HartHistory was a lurch to 1934 and Hart’s report that 5 million cotton pickers moved from the South to northern cities that year. Some in the room briefly wondered how many other people were on the move in the depths of the Great Depression, included a large number coming from the Dust Bowl to the San Joaquin Valley. Hart characterized these northern industrial cities as “black.”

Residents of the north San Joaquin Valley forget how acceptable racism is in Kern County, where as long as 40 years ago, Whites lived in terror of an invasion from Watts. Ronald Reagan used the fear quite successfully in his 1966 gubernatorial campaign.

In 1926, Hart said, the US Supreme Court decided a case called Euclid v. Amber Realty that established zoning laws, “the solution for pollution” being to put factories on the edges of cities. The next station on high-speed HartHistory was the federal bill that established GI loans for education, mortgages and business loans. Then we were on to Levittown, where the developer used the Henry Ford technique of building houses, creating the first modern subdivisions. (The same thing was going on in Daly City.) The “solution to pollution” failed because people had to commute to work, which required cars, leading to “building cities and towns for cars,” like they have been doing in the San Joaquin Valley for 30 years. “Cars are now more important than people, communities and land,” Hart noted. She described Kern County (with graphics of locusts devouring crops) – people now running from cities, now mega-dairies running from Chino because LA County decided to discontinue its dairy park and open the area to developers to build more subdivisions for commuters. Hart said: “We know you don’t want the Southland in the Valley.” Her visual aids include pictures of poor Black youth (gangs) and graffiti.

What “we,” Badlands editors wondered. Who is the “we” that Hart is dynamically presenting here? We do however remember an actual infestation of grasshoppers in Avenal once.

“We are creating globalisation,” she said. Forty-seven million Americans are moving within the US annually to follow work, she said. Youth today will be changing jobs every three or four years.

Don’t question government, Hart implied, because government has empowered us, in the form of a 2004 state law called AB1268:


65302.4. The text and diagrams in the land use element that
address the location and extent of land uses, and the zoning
ordinances that implement these provisions, may also express
community intentions regarding urban form and design. These
expressions may differentiate neighborhoods, districts, and
corridors, provide for a mixture of land uses and housing types
within each, and provide specific measures for regulating
relationships between buildings, and between buildings and outdoor
public areas, including streets.

While Badlands editors could see how someone who owned a design and production company in Tehachapi would be terribly impressed by this brilliantly progressive insert into the Government Code guidelines for general plans, we were a little bit more impressed by the following:

65302.1. (a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the
(1) The San Joaquin Valley has a serious air pollution problem
that will take the cooperation of land use and transportation
planning agencies, transit operators, the development community, the
San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the public to
solve. The solution to the problem requires changes in the way we
have traditionally built our communities and constructed the
transportation systems. It involves a fundamental shift in
priorities from emphasis on mobility for the occupants of private
automobiles to a multimodal system that more efficiently uses scarce
resources. It requires a change in attitude from the public to
support development patterns and transportation systems different
from the status quo.
(2) In 2003 the district published a document entitled, Air
Quality Guidelines for General Plans. This report is a comprehensive
guidance document and resource for cities and counties to use to
include air quality in their general plans. It includes goals,
policies, and programs that when adopted in a general plan will
reduce vehicle trips and miles traveled and improve air quality.
(3) Air quality guidelines are recommended strategies that do,
when it is feasible, all of the following:
(A) Determine and mitigate project level and cumulative air
quality impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
(Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources
(B) Integrate land use plans, transportation plans, and air
quality plans.
(C) Plan land uses in ways that support a multimodal
transportation system.
(D) Local action to support programs that reduce congestion and
vehicle trips.
(E) Plan land uses to minimize exposure to toxic air pollutant
emissions from industrial and other sources.
(F) Reduce particulate matter emissions from sources under local
(G) Support district and public utility programs to reduce
emissions from energy consumption and area sources.
(4) The benefits of including air quality concerns within local
general plans include, but are not limited to, all of the following:

(A) Lower infrastructure costs.
(B) Lower public service costs.
(C) More efficient transit service.
(D) Lower costs for comprehensive planning.
(E) Streamlining of the permit process.
(F) Improved mobility for the elderly and children.
(b) The legislative body of each city and county within the
jurisdictional boundaries of the district shall amend the appropriate
elements of its general plan, which may include, but are not limited
to, the required elements dealing with land use, circulation,
housing, conservation, and open space, to include data and analysis,
goals, policies, and objectives, and feasible implementation
strategies to improve air quality.
(c) The adoption of air quality amendments to a general plan to
comply with the requirements of subdivision (d) shall include all of
the following:
(1) A report describing local air quality conditions including air
quality monitoring data, emission inventories, lists of significant
source categories, attainment status and designations, and applicable
state and federal air quality plans and transportation plans.
(2) A summary of local, district, state, and federal policies,
programs, and regulations that may improve air quality in the city or
(3) A comprehensive set of goals, policies, and objectives that
may improve air quality consistent with the strategies listed in
paragraph (3) of subdivision (a).
(4) A set of feasible implementation measures designed to carry
out those goals, policies, and objectives.
(d) At least 45 days prior to the adoption of air quality
amendments to a general plan pursuant to this section, each city and
county shall send a copy of its draft document to the district. The
district may review the draft amendments to determine whether they
may improve air quality consistent with the strategies listed in
paragraph (3) of subdivision (a). Within 30 days of receiving the
draft amendments, the district shall send any comments and advice to
the city or county. The legislative body of the city or county shall
consider the district's comments and advice prior to the final
adoption of air quality amendments to the general plan. If the
district's comments and advice are not available by the time
scheduled for the final adoption of air quality amendments to the
general plan, the legislative body of the city or county may act
without them. The district's comments shall be advisory to the city
or county.
(e) The legislative body of each city and county within the
jurisdictional boundaries of the district shall comply with this
section no later than one year from the date specified in Section
65588 for the next revision of its housing element that occurs after
January 1, 2004.
(f) As used in this section, "district" means the San Joaquin
Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Hart presented more evidence of how our government is reaching out to us in the Valley: the 2006 California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, co-chaired by Fritz Grupe, top Stockton developer and 2005-2006 bankroller of the Pomboza’s last attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act, with particular attention, as always, to the habitat for endangered species in eastern Central California.

Ed. Note: the Pomboza refers to a congressional partnership, broken up by a vote of the people in 2006, between former Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

The Partnership was a response to a congressional report embarrassing to the state, demonstrating by a number of economic indicators, that the San Joaquin Valley is poorer than Appalachia, Hart said. Sustainability principles and balance is what the Valley needs, she added. But, then, leaving poverty behind for a moment, she leapt on to AB 32, the global warming bill passed last year. What will it mean for one of the most economically depressed areas in the nation? We wondered.

Not much, some say, because it’s kinda toothless. But Hart argued that it was very important because without local planning attention to global warming, state funds will dry up.

Would that be like the Education Reform Augmentation Fund? Would that be like our leaders telling us we won’t get those federal highway funds if we don’t agree to increase our sales taxes for local matching funds? And what does Merced do with the anchor tenant for its terrific real estate boom/bust, UC Merced, out there on the golf course claiming to be the “green” campus? Part of the mind-boggling contradictions we face here is the utter hypocrisy of power: the UC creates the growth that contributes to the global warming and air quality disaster, and then receives grants of public funds to study both. This hypocrisy lies buried deep in the culture of power, where they keep nuclear weapons research (a UC monopoly) and biowarfare research, a UC specialty that it wanted to expand greatly with a biodanger level 4 biowarfare lab near Tracy, fortunately unsuccessfully this time. Strangely, either by “design” or ignorance, Hart made no mention of UC Merced. It is possible she didn’t know where she was, evidenced by one reference to “Modesto County.” Nor did she once mention Mexico or Hispanic residents in the Valley, a curious oversight considering La Paz, headquarters for the United Farm Workers, in close to Tehachapi and that the union’s strikes began in Kern County. But HartHistory, as we were learning, is a very curious narrative.

Hart then launched into her experience on the Tehachapi school district board, full of people living on ranchettes, which ends up costing a lot of money for school buses. The utilities for the ranchette culture are subsidized by cities and towns, she said …

This is real old news.

The reporter is not certain – his notes do not reflect it fully – that at this point Hart actually thanked God for the existence of the Hun, our governor, but she came close. She dynamically presented regional planning as an act of his personal genius. Her illustration was poor Arvin, with the worst air quality in the nation. “Arvin cannot fix its air quality,” she said. She also mentioned that none of the major natural resource issues follow the lines of political jurisdictions, so regional planning is a must.

It looked to Badlands editors like ol’ section 65302.1 of the state Government Code sorta made it mandatory, at least for the Valley, but we aren’t lawyers and Hart outlawed contemplation of lawsuits early in her dynamic presentation.

And if you believe the governor cares about air quality in Arvin, Badlands has a heretofore undiscovered gigantic aquifer under Sunset Blvd. to sell you, dirt cheap.

“We are going to have to accommodate it. Growth is inevitable. If you don’t like it, leave,” Hart said.

OK. Everyone in Kern County can go live in Tehachapi.

The Blueprint is the Holy Grail, Hart dynamically presented. It will cover watersheds, roads, conservation corridors and air pollution issues, she said.

Meanwhile, back to Valley poverty: higher poverty rates than the state average, lower college education than the state average, higher rate of violent crimes than the state average, lower access to health care than the state average and the worst air quality.

Then we got the Three E’s of the Partnership: Economy; Environment; and Equity. “If you want it, you’re going to have to work for it,” Hart intoned.

Nobody in the Valley ever considered working for anything. That’s why we’re so poor, dumb, sick, crime-ridden and that’s why our air quality is the worst in the nation. We just don’t work. No wonder our government scolds us so, in the dynamic voice of Ms. Hart. But, wait, it’s because we don’t know how to work. We don’t have the right concept.

What we need is REGIONAL DESIGN, said Designer Hart. We need to design our regions, our city blocks, our neighborhoods. But, an obstacle is that the Valley is “a whole mess of different cultures.”

Worse than Singapore. Worse than the Epcot Center at Disney World. Badlands always considered it a privilege to live in an area of such diverse cultures.

But, somehow, DESIGN PRINCIPLES – from our inner cities to our rural preserves – are going to save us (if we work real hard), according to Hart.

“Kern County is taking charge of its own destiny. It is finding its vision.” Kern County contains two major goods movement corridors. Kern County wants food security. It wants energy security. It is promoting emerging technologies (a huge windpower project on the Tehachapis, possibly as large as the Altamont projects). Kern County wants water security and has a water bank to prove it.

The one thing Kern County has produced since the farm labor union is Government Code section 65302.1, which the Dynamic Presenter ignored.

Kern County is going to stop growth, develop vision and design its communities (no more of that tacky planning). Kern County is going to have Smart Growth. Hart can’t define it, but she knows what it is. Smart Growth is Outcomes, which we have to focus on instead of “inputs …”

Or “incomes” of finance, insurance, real estate, agribusiness and the oil companies?

Now, to the central point and on to liberation: planning v. design.
Plans outline a process and produces general plans.

Ah, but DESIGN! Design produces an illustrated document showing the community how it will look, enabled by AB1268, which according to Hart creates the breath-taking breakthrough of “form-based codes.”

The illustrations will be brought to the attention of all because – although planners still live in the era of Donkey Kong and maps – today’s technology can create really cool pictures of exactly the kind of city block you want or neighborhood by the same technologies that have produced our modern video games.

We need local government to help us see our vision, Hart dynamically announced. Then we can show it to developers, farmers, etc. Design documents show all the elements, all the outcomes, with lots of pictures. Ventura County has an outcome-based, form-based design document, Hart said.

Members of the defunct Merced County Agriculture Futures Alliance will recall that Ventura can do no wrong. They may also recall that the group was terminated by UC officials and developers when members put forth a coalition statement calling for a moratorium on new growth projects until the county general plan had been updated.

But – to make it even more perfect and free of conflict – Hart says that “we” aren’t telling the developer what to do on his private property. However, the public owns the streets, sidewalks, alleys and schools – the infrastructure. The public must start to design its own public spaces.

That should not take so long. Special interests have been swallowing public spaces for decades, starting with local, state and federal government.

Hart mentioned that the Tehachapi City Council declared a moratorium on new growth until its form-based planning was finished. The developers agreed, according to Hart. Hart has tender feelings for developers. She says some of them are investors in your communities and plan on 2030-year buildouts. Some even live in your communities. If they build low-quality housing products in the beginning, they create a problem for themselves later on in their buildout. Speculators hate form-based design, Hart said. But, developers who live in your communities will support it. In Tehachapi, developers supported it but speculators slinked out of town.

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!

Hart said that non-government organizations need to start working together.

The Badlands reporter regrets to say that no warm hand reached out to grip his own in the audience and scarcely a line of “Kumbaya” was sung.

You must bring people together, get to the Blueprint process, get community workshops started in the neighborhoods – Get them excited! Hart exhorts us undynamic listeners. Even get “bums” excited. BUT – dynamically weaving her diversity of themes – Hart reminds us that we don’t design private property but only public spaces.

Which is where you find homeless people, aka “bums” in HartSpeak.

Visualize your future! Hart exhorted us. We have NEW TOOLS! Hart explained. New computer tools that can create planning scenarios as fast as CMI forensic cops can whip up the face of a suspect. The room is silent. We all sense that this is the center of the Dynamic Presentation. New tools! People think about the air board, perhaps with help from UC Merced, creating the Black Box that will clean the air. New tools. Magic!

We suddenly grasp the principle of HartHistory: Time goes backwards from her future design, zooms in reverse at top speed through the present and into the past and those Southern cotton pickers up to Detroit, when Ford Co. goons were dangling the Reuther brothers, auto-worker organizers, over the frozen Detroit River from a bridge.

In Hart’s first demonstration of the NEW TOOLS, she chose a picture (projected on a screen by computer as is obligatory in all serious public discussion these days), of a street corner. It was a real Valley street corner. It was funky. It reminded me of street corners from Stockton to Bakersfield, where a Democratic Party voter registrar might set up table, make his pitch, and end up talking to a long-legged, sultry working girl in a red mini-skirt who would give her name as Joy d’Amor and say she only voted for Jesus for King. The scene contained a corner lot strewn with the remnants of failed enterprise, perhaps the last being a dead-end used car lot.

NEW TOOLS intervened as quick as a police artist on CMI whips up a portrait of a perp from a victim’s description. We have an attractive four-story apartment building with retail on the sidewalk, on the lot of the former defunct car lot kitty-corner to the “Checks Cashed Here” establishment.

So, according to Hart, the design freak, the turned-on citizens all the NGOs have gathered will redesign this guy’s lot. He couldn’t make a living selling hot clunkers there, but he has the money to build a four-story apartment building with retail on the floor. No more funky Valley neighborhood, full of “bums” and proprietors of sketchy establishments, no more of the real communities that thrive in such places all over America. We just erased the community that actually existed on that street corner – so unsightly to the eyes of Hart and the rest of the Yuppie Design Police – and we did 4th Street, Emeryville or downtown Sebastopol, without the income base to support it. And was the former used-car salesman a willing seller?

HartWorld is not about real people. It is about design fantasy, which always occurs out there in the future, receptacle for the subjunctive of greed. But that future is tough territory. While Hart demands local NGOs settle their differences and work together, a war is going on between planners and designers for control of the future, a time and a place – when you think about it – that does not exist. The nation’s present negative savings balance, the mortgage crash, and a decade of living in a community whose public officials have talked about nothing but housing people who do not know they will live here yet, from the Great Valley Center’s “Housing the next 10 Million” through all the UC flak about “tidal wave 2,” should be enough to make Mercedians think twice about Mom’s advice about planning for the future. If that is not enough, look at our business leaders, whose policies are to rip off the present as if there were no tomorrow. Consider our political leaders, who permitted nearly every subdivision they were asked to so speculators could try their hand at flipping Merced real estate.

If your local planners aren’t using SCENARIO PLANNING – these virtual pix – your local government is not helping you! Hart states flatly.

Does she have a contract to sell the technology, manipulate the technology, or does she get a cut for its promotion?

We now enter Hart’s nightmare and it’s no longer “we” (she, the Hun and the smart people) and now it is “you” (us living in this unspeakable squalor here on the Valley Floor).

“Your houses are unaffordable. Where is the water coming from?” she intones, flashing a photo of a boulevard with businesses on it with huge lawns between them and the street. Instantly, she creates a whole new SCENARIO of sidewalk boutiques crowding the boulevard, eliminating costly lawn watering. This only presumes that the insurance companies and high-tech firms that have the large lawns will sell the land to a developer to install the row of boutiques and that anyone will rent boutiques in space that reminds us of the road between Napa and American City or somewhere on the outskirts of Fremont or Fairfield.

Hart almost rants about being a “single mom” raising her children in a “real” neighborhood, saying (un-singly) that “we built a house we could afford in a neighborhood …” She waxes poetical about real neighborhoods before blasting ranchettes. Bakersfield College students did a study on ranchette living, found the lock-key children of two-income earners, and declared that ranchettes were creating “Lord of the Flies” SCENARIOS.

You need to build real communities!

We have real communities. They are being overrun by new subdivisions, which are of course neither real communities nor even neighborhoods yet. Retiring Placer County CEO Don Lunsford, put it quite well in 2001, saying that if all the subdivisions built in Roseville don’t become neighborhoods, “we will have failed.”
“We” failed and Roseville remains the model for growth in the Central Valley and that failure is a generous goldmine to all developers. That’s what happens when finance, insurance and real estate special interests own every local, state and federal politician in the state.

Close Big Box Retail! Build real shopping centers! Hart declares. Build creative clusters for creative workers! Build walkable communities to impede obesity (the killing illnesses of today have a direct relationship to how we build our communities)! Senior citizens in ranchettes are a disaster for everyone involved, from the seniors to their families to the public services they require, sometimes real quick.

Pictures designed on a computer screen are going to lead to the reform of the state tax code after the developers spent 30 years designing it exactly to their specifications?But, don’t you worry, we’re in the future now and the future does not exist so just go along for the ride and BELIEVE!

Again, from the annals of a reporter formerly covering government in Placer County, where all the magnificent fruit orchards have been carved into ranchettes – many for retiring couples – one of the main worries of government was the response time of ambulances and fire departments.


The developer wants to know what you think! He doesn’t want to spend all that money planning something you don’t want. He needs to know what you want. With NEW TOOLS, you will be able to communicate with him.

Peace through graphics?

“That’s it,” she said.

But, it wasn’t quite it. At the very end, we learned that “government doesn’t want to fight you.”

Not “us,” it’s all “you” again that is receiving this immeasurable crock of the well-known substance.

Pedrozo was enthusiastic. “We can get these tools from you,” she said. But there are problems, at least here locally and DESIGN-FORSAKEN Merced. Developers get infill projects and their permits don’t make it through the process. A lot of the downtown housing is actually zoned commercial. We spend our tax dollars for public infrastructure but development has not paid its way.


The public refuses to accept the blame for not demanding more of government by this inside wheeler-dealer, executive director of the local farm bureau, sister-in-law of the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, soon-to-be president of the California Women for Agriculture and past executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce. Pedrozo long ago passed over to the realm of local fixers who read no documents but decide their views solely on backroom chats with officials, weighing who is less important to offend in any given political situation.

Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook said that the lack of communication between cities and the county … the cities choose the largest footprints … are there any tools for not growing …sloppy …
“Cities grow. Counties don’t.” Ed Abercrombie, former Atwater city councilman.

Hart replies to her fellow UC/Great Valley Center IDEAL program graduate: there are issues like how land percolates, where farmland is – cities can be formed, can weave, can be concentric, or can organize as connected villages, which is more organic.

Like Village One in Modesto, the illegitimate brain child of Carol Whiteside, then mayor of Modesto, later founder of Great Valley Center and its IDEAL program of emerging scam-artist development.

“You have to find out what your people like, what makes them comfortable,” Hart said.

This sort of grasping for grassroots by government and its paid lapdogs like Hart is strong evidence of total desperation. The San Joaquin Valley is dying of government-sponsored growth.. Growing parts of it become public health and safety dangers, which is a liability issue for government. Therefore, OUTREACH!

Councilman Osorio makes a critical remark about design review committees. They just fiddle with little stuff, he said.

Would that be little stuff like printing a union bug on “Osorio for Mayor” lawn signs made by non-union printers and then trying to bribe a union printer$3,900 to say he printed the signs?

Hart asserts a NEW POLITICAL MODEL: What we gotta do is get us together in a “big old messy group with a good design team for a week taking “your” input and …”

…making cool video-game graphics out of it. “Big old messy groups” have gotten together with planners in a number of California counties to make county plans in the past. But, they didn’t have HartTech, so of course it didn’t work out--setting aside remorseless pressure from building industry associations, fronting for finance, insurance and real estate special interests.

Hart is full of wisdom and the Merced audience has evidently pushed her into root principles: “We’re not going to get consensus.” “You” have to build to a point where they will not oppose. It’s called “informed consent,” Hart explained. “Work for informed consent.”

In HartWorld there are always six people in any community who are against, and they can stop projects when they get together. In DianaWorld, however, these people do not do ask government to do enough. In the politics brought tonight to Merced County, all the non-governmental groups are required to join forces and go out into the neighborhoods to get people excited about redesigning themselves, while finance, insurance and real estate special interests go right on going on with the same-old, same-old.

East Merced Resource Conservation District Board Member Glenn Anderson attempted to ask a question of his usual global nature. Although a nut grower, Anderson’s questions always involve both fruits and nuts. He was trying to say something about local fruits and nuts and fruit and nut security. He never had a chance. Hart grabbed the theme and ran with it. Local growers and packers send their fruit out of the Valley and the Valley gets worse produce back. She lurches forward, imagining a fruit and vegetable peddler working our neighborhoods like the Good Humor men on their bicycles or the ladies who sell good tamales door-to-door.
Only true Valley vernacular can respond to this: it is horseshit. Our produce in Merced is just fine, thank you, and we bet it’s better in Bakersfield, a much larger city.

All this was too much for mayoral candidate Osorio, who said,: “We cannot build apartment lofts downtown by eminent domain."

Buggy as Osorio is, that wasn’t a bad statement.

Hart polls the audience for support of high-speed rail. Few hands go up. “That’s not enough at all,” she mutters.

How will she explain it to the Hun?

Hart nearly wails that we’ve abandoned 2,000 years of city planning for Levittown. Pedrozo replies that we’d support high-speed rail if we though the Valley would look like Europe as a result, but we know it is just going to look like LA. Hart says that it is the perception of staff planners that there is a problem communicating with the people. But there is all this growth. What are planners to do? What is the disincentive for more population growth in California.

Several members of the audience say, another Great Depression, possibly caused by the credit crisis brought on by fraudulent mortgage loans, like the credit situation in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
A questioner enters the global space of overpopulation in the Valley and global warming. Hart replies that AB 32, the state’s global warming bill looks like an unfounded mandate but is actually an unfunding mandate.
Pedrozo, executive director of the county farm bureau, veers away from global-warming chat, saying that we can build wonderful communities and keep good farmland, too.

Hart lays down the Kern County dogma on food security: Do you want to depend on a foreign nation for your food like we depend on the Middle East for our oil?

Speak Memory of how long ago it was when a large Delano packer was fighting President Reagan’s embargo of Nicaragua, with which he was doing a lot of import/export business in farm commodities—and became a darling of the Sandalista set for a season for his efforts. How many acres of row crop land does it take a family to make a living on in Kern County today? The benchmark in 1970 was 800 acres.

Maureen McCrorry asked how we could encourage infill projects rather than urban sprawl. Hart replied: hire design firms rather than planning consultants. “We’re building housing rather than communities.”

“Hire me rather than those nasty old planning consultants in the audience.”

A farmer remarked that the county has no zoning for agricultural preserves. Hart replies that you need to study your water, prime ag land, etc.

Most of the people in her audience have been involved with efforts to get government to do that for years. Some in the room have been successful at getting federal agencies to do just that. Hart, who thinks Modesto County is just to our north, has no clue who she is talking to.

Pedrozo announces that the county has required 1:1 mitigation for farmland on the Delhi and Santa Nella plans. No one is there to contradict her so it must be true, right? Pedrozo asks Osorio and other city officials present: Why couldn’t the city increase the density a bit and build out on its previous urban boundary without expanding it by 22,000 acres? Osorio replies that there is zoning for apartments but no one is building now. There are lots of empty houses in Merced, in case no one is looking, he added.

Badlands editors briefly imagined a Singapore skyline in Merced, its upper stories filled with the very wealthy entrepreneurs of UC Merced-inspired high-tech, bio-tech businesses, in entirely self-enclosed environments including virtual parks and 24/7 zebra snuff movies on the screens with no need to go outside to hear the rumble of goods movement, gangs and homeless panhandlers in public spaces, and to experience the health and safety hazards of breathing the air.

Hart, a fanatic advocate for mixing except perhaps in Tehachapi, asks if the zoning requires mixed income groups. Osorio replies that it has to be that way by state mandate. There is resistance to smaller footprints.
The Badlands Journal editorial board conjectured that Hart’s vision is of skyscraping apartment complexes with poor folk below, the wealthy above and discretely separate elevator shafts with stop and go servants constantly delivering locally grown fruits and nuts to the upper floors.

Nick Robinson, Scourge of WalMart, comments that nay-saying is important for community self-defense.

Hart replies that those same old six people can shut down anything. You’re going to have to move them. The goal is not consensus but informed consent. Robinson replies that asthma has become a health and safety issue in the Valley. Hart says that if you are going to build communities that cause asthma, you have to say, No. It is the only moral thing to do.

The distinction between the moral and the political, fomented by today’s Nobel Prize winner, Citizen Gore, is simply more evidence of the psychotic cracks in DemocratThink, the metaphysics of a level of political corruption so deep and pervasive it has destroyed itself. As former Rep. Tony Coelho, D-Merced, told Brooks Jackson, author of Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process, “the process buys you out.” Evidence since Coelho’s resignation in the 1980’s mounts that it also rots your mind.

Lisa Kaiser-Grant asks what about a moratorium on growth – simply oppose it to stop proactive (pro-development) planning? Responding to an earlier quibble by Osorio to the effect that he wants citizens not merely to oppose projects but to offer positive solutions, Kaiser-Grant added that she didn’t have time to propose positive solutions. “What I have time to do is to oppose.”

Hart pitches her NEW TOOLS. Get the design information out there, get your GIS cooking. Planners need to reeducate themselves. They need to SEE by using those new, cutting-edge graphic technologies that only design firms can properly be employed as consultants to provide.

Hart replies to the emerging moratorium mood in the audience that the only problem with moratoria is bankers (people we stupid Mercedians are never supposed to have heard of).

“FIRE!” cries the Badlands editorial board. “At last we are being read: Finance, Insurance and Real Estate special interests have ruled us since UC Merced was prematurely promoted as a “done deal” by the politicians, and became the anchor tenant for an incredibly destructive speculative real estate boom, which achieved its final form two days after this dynamic presentation: number one in the nation for foreclosure activity.

Pedrozo said Merced dairies did a three-year moratorium while negotiating the county animal confinement ordinance. But then she went lunatic: “We must give the government our vision! We need more dialogue like this.”

Actually, the evening was not a dialogue. It was a Dynamic Presentation followed by a little Q&A.

Osorio, a realtor, mortgage broker and insurance broker, determined to get the last word during his campaign for mayor, said “you” need to have the local politicians tell you what the constraints on your (crazy) ideas are. But, don’t think these are really local restraints. It is all the state’s fault…

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Public comments on public minutes of EMRCD board meeting

Submitted: Oct 09, 2007

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

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

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

Badlands Journal editorial board

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

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

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Merced River property owner/stakeholder viewpoint on East Merced Resource Conservation District September board meeting

Submitted: Oct 03, 2007

This is a letter from a Merced River stakeholder/river landowner that provides another viewpoint on the recent East Merced Resource Conservation District board meeting. -- Badlands Journal editorial board

From: pferrigno@elite.net
To: Brwade@aol.com
CC: xxxx@bigvalley.net; billhatch@hotmail.com; xxxx@aol.com; xxxx@mercedschoolcu.org; xxxx@mercedriver.k12.ca.us; xxxx@santafeaggregates.com; dlevey@mercedsun-star.com; xxxx@ca.usda.gov
Subject: Post EMRCD Meeting
Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2007 18:28:15 -0700

Bernie: I am conflicted as to what to do next. I have never been subjected to such thinly-veiled hostility as was experienced at the EMRCD Board meeting.

I’m not a big fan of process, per se, and most of this public records stuff drives me crazy….but it is offensive to me that the Board spent so much time yesterday discussing ways in which to make access to public records difficult and expensive … specifically for the Raptor group. People like Lydia Miller keep us honest; we are all just a little bit more careful to cross our t’s and dot our i’s because of them. The entire matter would be a moot point if this stuff could be put on the web site where it belongs so anyone could look at it whenever they wanted.

As a citizen of Merced County attending a public meeting of a Merced County Board I am once again embarrassed by these proceedings. As a private citizen with a need for representation I am horribly frustrated to the point of not being able to function. If water were not so important to the farmers on the River, I would walk away from the whole thing and have a much better quality of life.

The snide remarks, innuendo, and blatant misstatements from Cindy Lashbrook are very troublesome: point in fact, my brother was never invited to sit on the EMRCD Board although Cindy announced to one and all that he had been invited and had refused; point in fact, I never “shouted down” anyone who wanted public access at any MRS meeting (Cindy said that someone present at the Board meeting yesterday had done that; as it wasn’t you and wasn’t Lydia I guess that leaves me)—Lydia is probably the only person I have raised my voice in anger to at a meeting and it was at the Board of Supervisors not MRS; point in fact, the previous water monitoring training program, organized by Teri Murrison, was a bust—Mike is the only person who walked out of that training program with a water monitoring kit and that was only because he knew the Fish and Game rep who was doing the training. The lies promulgated by Ms. Lashbrook become fact when they are not refuted.

Has the impropriety of the way in which the grants are administered not occurred to anyone on the Board? It is not appropriate for beneficiaries of grant funds to sit on the Board: it is a concept called “arms length “ objectivity; without it the EMRCD can be seen as being politicized, chasing the board members’/grant beneficiaries’ biases rather than the legitimate policy concerns of the citizens. Instead of attacking the messenger, it would be more prudent to examine the actions of your staff in this regard.

The stakeholders (no matter with what group—or no group—they are affiliated) are citizens. We, the Merced River Property Owners, had legitimate concerns about the grant. Whether it was submitted by the MRS, the EMRCD, or the Rand Corporation, we would have opposed the grant as it is adverse to the interests of the majority of the River farmers.

Cindy’s contention that the grant really wasn’t concerned with public access to private property; and, her further statement that the access issue and all of the other things in the grant which were the basis of our opposition were only included because they were a part of the RFP is ridiculous. It is also fraud. I was a grant administrator at UC-SF for several years; you cannot state you are going to do something in order to get a grant and then not do it. If Merced County has other grants which were obtained on this same basis… what were they thinking?

I don’t believe the EMRCD Board is guilty of malfeasance or misfeasance; I believe you are all doing the best you can do in the situation where you are running your businesses and volunteering your time for the EMRCD. I do object to the level of personal hostility which was in evidence. We (the Bettencourt family) tried to defuse this whole thing before we resorted to setting up another MRS meeting. We offered to meet anywhere, with anyone; we offered to host the meeting at one of our homes or at a restaurant. The offers were ignored.

You need to put aside your defensiveness and notice that there is a pattern here: your facilitators were too busy meeting the grant deadline to get the grant concept proposal out to MRS members (did you notice that the grant is dated February 1, 2007; which would have allowed more than adequate time for MRS review); your facilitators were too busy getting ready for the River Fair to get the grant out to Lydia and me on a timely basis; your facilitators were too busy going out of town for four days to reconsider the UC-M location even though our prediction of significant parking problems and lost attendees was right on.

It would be appropriate for us to try, once again, to defuse the issue but I really don’t have the energy and the Property Owners I represent would not ask me to be subject again to being scolded, like an errant schoolgirl, by the EMRCD Board. We will continue the MRS once your paid facilitators are gone. We don’t need to be paid to do the right thing for the River.

Pat Ferrigno

| »

Points of Order concerning the East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007

Submitted: Sep 25, 2007

To: East Merced Resource Conservation District Board of Directors

From: San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center; Protect Our Water; San Joaquin Valley Conservancy; Merced River Valley Association; Planada Association; Planada Community Development Co.; Le Grand Association; Stanislaus Natural Heritage

Re: Points of Order concerning the East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007

Date: Sept. 24, 2007

East Merced RCD Board of Directors: Via: email and Hand Delivered


The East Merced RCD is not the Merced River Stakeholders, which are having its meeting at Washington School at this moment. The East Merced RCD is one Merced River stakeholder among many. In holding of this meeting at UC Merced, the East Merced RCD has greatly exceeded its statutory status as a legislative body and has illegally asserted authority over the Merced River Stakeholders. The East Merced RCD has no legal authority to hold a meeting of the Merced River Stakeholders. Gwen Huff, East Merced RCD staff/Merced Alliance Lower Merced River Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders facilitator, was not authorized by the Merced River Stakeholders to convene this meeting here at UC Merced while the stakeholders are meeting at the Washington School.

The meeting we are attending is an East Merced RCD meeting. The East Merced RCD board of directors is presently illegally constituted under CARCD Guidebook.

The East Merced RCD is a legislative body, whose board members are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors. According to the California CARCD Guidebook, the East Merced RCD is subject to the Ralph Brown Act governing public meetings.

The Merced River Stakeholders group, meeting presently at Washington School, is not a
legislative body, by agreement among stakeholders after years of discussion of governance.

This East Merced RCD meeting is violating the Brown Act in the following ways:

1. There are more than two board members of the RCD in attendance; the RCD board meeting agenda of September 26 contains action items concerning the Merced River Stakeholders; the combination of RCD board members attending this meeting under the false claim that it is a Merced River Stakeholders meeting and the action items these board members will vote on in two days, is a major violation of the Brown Act. This pattern, which has been going on for some time, constitutes a continual violation by the East Merced RCD of the Brown Act;

2. This East Merced RCD meeting we are now attending was improperly noticed: it was not posted at the RCD office; it was not posted on the Merced River Stakeholders website or the East Merced RCD website or the Merced River Alliance website;

3. This East Merced RCD meeting agenda is inadequately descriptive under the Brown Act for a public agency agenda;

4. The East Merced RCD facilitator has no authority to unilaterally decide on the
location for a Merced River Stakeholder meeting in the face of stakeholder opposition;

5. The East Merced RCD had no authority to vote in its last meeting to suppress public
documents produced by Merced River Stakeholders because that suppression violated the
state RCD Guidelines and constituted several violations of the Brown Act;

6. The East Merced RCD is making decisions about the Merced River Stakeholders at their monthly board meetings in multiple violations of the Brown Act;

7. It is our understanding from the RCD board meeting of August 15, that an item will be
introduced into this evening's RCD meeting by RCD board member, Cathy Weber, to protest the heading of a recent letter that successfully protested an RCD grant proposal. This agenda item would be illegal on its face because the RCD board, at the same meeting, voted unanimously on an item not on its agenda, to suppress distribution of this public letter to members of the Merced River Stakeholders for their next meeting. It is illegal because it violates multiple Brown Act provisions for agenda formation.

The Merced River Stakeholders now meeting at Washington School openly participated in the process surrounding the denied grant proposal, sharing our concerns and openly distributing material expressing our opposition. The East Merced RCD, the Lower Merced River Watershed coordinator and the Merced River Alliance continually suppressed public information and public documents concerning not just the grant proposal but the future of river itself.

For the record, Merced River Stakeholders will deal with violations of the California Law on Conflict-of-Interest at a later date.

Because this meeting is not legally compliant, it should adjourn now.

Agendas of East Merced RCD and Merced River Stakeholder meetings and e-mails pertaining to the unlawful topics discussed in this letter are included below:

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: Gwen Huff
Sent: Friday, May 25, 2007 12:07 PM
Subject: EMRCD Grant Proposal

Greetings Stakeholders –

As the current facilitator of the Merced River Stakeholders (funded through current grants to the East Merced Resource Conservation District [EMRCD]), I am sending out a message from the EMRCD Board of Directors. Information for this message was compiled by me, as the MRS facilitator and staff of EMRCD, and reviewed and approved by those EMRCD directors present at the May EMRCD Board Meeting, and other EMRCD staff.

Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

The purpose of this letter is to clarify some logistics in the writing and submitting of our grant proposal to develop a Lower Merced River Watershed Management Plan. A summary of that proposal, in narrative form, is attached to this email.

While we have had a very strong measure of support throughout the community, the response from regular attendees at the Merced River Stakeholders group has been mixed. The members in opposition feel very strongly about certain points, which will be addressed further down, while others are very supportive. The EMRCD is at the service of all stakeholders in Eastern Merced County, and while we appreciate that not everyone is in agreement about this grant proposal, we feel that it will be valuable for our community and that there is ample support to justify proceeding with the submission of a full proposal.

At our regular Board meeting Wednesday May 23rd, at which the following Board members were present, Glenn Anderson, Cathy Weber, Karen Barstow and Bernard Wade, the Board unanimously passed the following resolution, with comments:

Cathy Weber I support this grant because there have been gaps of information to make recommendations and “full-picture” choices for the Merced River Watershed. I see a need for this plan to help decision makers and citizens make informed decisions about conservation issues in the watershed.
Karen Barstow I’m a farmer and landowner and I support the proposal because it is in line with State expectations of bringing all of us together on an issue that is vital to all of us; California’s most critical issue-water.
Glenn Anderson I’m a 72 year-old farmer, landowner, life-long appreciator of the river, and someone who has watched the abuse of the river. Our district has now begun a journey of community appreciation of this river and we need to continue this work to expand our community involvement.
Bernie Wade I’m submitting my support of this proposal. It is the imperative continuation to preserve, conserve and enhance the Merced Watershed. It is important that we continue scientific studies and analysis to preserve this natural resource.
Glenn Anderson moved to adopt resolution 2007-02 to submit the Watershed Management Plan grant application.
Cathy Weber seconded motion. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.

We would like to include here the Mission and Purpose, Goals and Objectives of the Merced River Stakeholders (MRS), as stated in the Merced River Stakeholders Group Charter, adopted January 27, 2003.

Mission and Purpose
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 and Objectives
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.

Additionally, from MRS meeting minutes of April 23, 2003;
The Governance Committee gave a report in which they stated that they are not in agreement that a formalized voting mechanism is necessary to conduct stakeholder meetings.

The EMRCD is a strong supporter of the Merced River Stakeholders, as evidenced by board member participation in MRS meetings, as well as long-term financial support to facilitate these meetings. We also recognize that the MRS has no mechanism for voting and cannot, as a group, support or oppose any item brought before them. They may, however, provide input. Indeed, MRS input can greatly improve projects that are within the watershed.

It is in this spirit that EMRCD has sought input from the MRS group on the development of the Lower Merced Watershed Management Plan. We have also sought input from other stakeholders within the watershed that do not attend the MRS meetings.

Regarding concerns from those in opposition:
MRS not notified before concept proposal submitted
We would like to acknowledge that earlier notification of the grant opportunity to the MRS would have been possible. At the January MRS meeting the grant opportunity was unknown to EMRCD and, therefore, could not have been communicated at that meeting. When this information was known February 13th, between MRS meetings, communication could have been made to stakeholders notifying them of the funder’s priorities, the deadline for grant submission and the intent of EMRCD to develop a concept proposal. No formal endorsement could have been gained - as the MRS has no mechanism for this. But input on direction could have been sought at that time. However, the MRS group was first informed of the process at the March 19th meeting. At which point a concept proposal had been developed and submitted by the deadline of March 16th, three days prior to the MRS meeting.

As there was allowance for modification from the concept proposal to the final proposal (should the EMRCD be invited to advance to a full proposal), the intention was to gain input from the stakeholders on what modifications could be made to improve the direction and content of the proposal. There was a constraint on what changes could be made. CalFed (the funder) had identified the Merced River as a high priority for developing a Watershed Management Plan for this particular round of funding. Therefore, the proposal needed to retain the basic direction of developing a management plan. But input on modifying the concept proposal, before writing and submitting a final proposal, was sought of MRS. As there are many stakeholders in the watershed beyond those who meet at the regular MRS meeting, and the EMRCD is at the service of all in Eastern Merced County, EMRCD was soliciting input from the MRS at this point, not asking for approval or endorsement, as there is no mechanism for that. We regret that not informing the MRS of the grant opportunity in February has caused some to feel excluded from the process. In the future, as long as EMRCD and MRS continue to have a working relationship, the EMRCD will inform the MRS before a concept proposal is submitted, with every effort to allow time to gather input for developing the proposal.

Staff Positions
The EMRCD acknowledges that neither job descriptions nor applicant qualifications were drafted for the concept proposal. This was not a requirement for submission of the proposal. However, these job descriptions will be in place before the final proposal is submitted. Additionally, posting of job opportunities with the EMRCD will be made if awarded the grant and as they become available.

Conflict of Interest?
An EMRCD associate director (who, in this case, is on the planning commission) has no voting rights and as such cannot vote to support or oppose any grant. There is no impropriety in an EMRCD board member, whether full or associate, being on the planning commission. Nor is there any impropriety in an EMRCD associate board member taking a staff position with the EMRCD.

Most, if not all, entities that rely on grant funding to further their mission and goals, pursue funding with their staff time, in order to bring the funds to their organization. Such is the case for EMRCD. The grant funds that are brought in are obligated to be spent on specific tasks laid out in the contract with the funding agency. The funding agency reviews, very closely, the progress of the grant and how the funds are spent. Members of the EMRCD board serve as such without any monetary compensation, and would receive none should the Watershed Management Plan be funded. There is no conflict of interest.

For more information on the authority under which the resource conservation districts operate, you may go to the following website: http://www.carcd.org/yourdistrict/div-9.htm

We thank you for your interest in resource issues of Eastern Merced County and look forward to continuing to work with you on watershed conservation issues.

EMRCD Board of Directors

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: 'Pat Ferrigno' ; 'Lydia Miller' ; brwade@aol.com ; 'Gail Bettencourt'
Cc: sdragovich@santafeaggregates.com
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2007 11:01 AM
Subject: RE: Proposed Meeting

Thank you very much, Pat, for the invitation to your home and for organizing the points of discussion. I believe they are well laid out. I would also like to suggest inviting Cathy Weber, as she has been an active stakeholder as well as a board member of EMRCD. Two board members may be present and not violate the Brown Act.

My availability is somewhat limited mid-September, but I am available September 9, 10, 11 and possibly the 12th. The next day I am leaving for a wedding in New York and will return on Monday the 17th.

Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: 'Pat Ferrigno' ; 'SJRRC' ; 'Raptorctr' ; 'Bernard Wade' ; Dist4@co.merced.ca.us ; 'Mike Bettencourt' ; 'Sharon Dragovich'
Cc: 'Teri Murrison'
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2007 2:55 PM
Subject: RE: MRS Agenda

Pat –

Yes – the agenda item “MRS and Grant Development” is intended to encompass any aspect of this whole issue. I hope that the amount of time will be adequate. Also, we can - and probably will –discuss expectations of a facilitator to convey the perspective of stakeholders to the EMRCD and other organizations.

Cathy Weber requested that at least some of the discussion happen in the first 45 minutes of the meeting because she has a conflict in her schedule with another important meeting. Since Cathy has been so involved with the stakeholders, I would like to honor that request. It is a bit awkward, breaking it up that way, though.

Regarding your offer to cover printing costs of the Raptor Center’s letter, thank you. However, we can cover those expenses. Since the meeting is dedicated almost completely to related MRS issues, I can bring copies to the meeting. The board has directed me not to distribute the letter with the meeting announcement, but it can certainly be available at the meeting. And you are free to circulate it before hand, if you wish. Please let me know if you plan on bringing copies so that we do not duplicate our work.

Lastly, we will be meeting in a conference room at UC Merced that holds 50 people. That should do. And thanks for refreshments.

Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

----- Original Message -----
From: Cathy Weber
To: Gwen Huff
Cc: Brwade@aol.com ; Pat Ferrigno ; Karen L Whipp ; Lydia Miller
Sent: Sunday, September 16, 2007 1:01 PM
Subject: MRS meeting

Dear Gwen,

I just returned home and have found many messages on my email. I'm very sorry if I, as an individual and not the EMRCD, have added to problems within the MRS member community.

Please set the agenda in a way that is best for all the members to deal with important issues. I am sorry that I won't be at the full meeting; but as a member of the Library Advisory Commission, I have a greater obligation to attend a 7:00 meeting in downtown Merced. In my request that the agenda item dealing with the MRS and EMRCD roles be placed early, I had no idea that it would create any type of problem.

I will come to the first part of the meeting and hope I have the opportunity to make one comment before I need to leave, a comment that is separate from the agenda item discussion. I know we have allowed other members to do so. But, please, place the agenda item at whatever time on the agenda that will make it most effective.

I am sorry that I won't be there for what I think is a very important discussion. I believe I have some perspective, being a member of both the MRS and the EMRCD. I care about both organizations deeply. I was always in favor of the MRS having more autonomy and decision making power with a process for it. I wanted to develop a plan for that through the governance committee process.

I am deeply concerned and saddened by what I feel is a misunderstanding. I know the EMRCD board members care a great deal about the resources of the river within our job of caring for and educating about all the resources of eastern Merced County. I feel that we have, unwittingly, been made villains when we thought that what we were doing all along was above-board and for the benefit of the County.

Please don't let the Board take the blame for the agenda item placement, or you for honoring my request. The fault for that is all mine. Again, I made my request, because I care about the whole discussion. I do hope these building misunderstandings can be cleared so we can meet together and support river restoration.

Cathy Weber

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: Gwen Huff
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 6:03 PM
Subject: MRS Meeting Reminder at UC Merced

Dear Stakeholders -

You may have recently received an email from SJRRC (San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center), Lydia Miller's organization, with a meeting announcement for the Merced River Stakeholders this Monday, Sept 24th at Washington School. That meeting is not sponsored by the East Merced Resource Conservation District and the announcement was not forwarded by me, as facilitator. I am the current facilitator, hired by the EMRCD to conduct the regular Merced River Stakeholders meeting on the 24th at UC Merced. The proposed presenters at the Washington School meeting have not been contacted by Ms. Miller and neither Karen Whipp, Cindy Lashbrook, Cathy Weber, Nancy McConnell nor I will be there. We will be attending the Merced River Stakeholders meeting at UC Merced. You will find the agenda below.

We have been told we can use the parking lot up at the top of the hill, very close to the library where we are meeting. Parking will be free in that lot after 5pm. Detailed directions are at the bottom of the agenda.

It is regretful that you are subject to the confusion generated by the disagreements between a few members of the Merced River Stakeholders, myself and the EMRCD. At our Sept 24th meeting we will be discussing future facilitation of the MRS, as the EMRCD funding to do this will be finished this calendar year. I hope that you will be able to attend this important meeting. Please contact me if you have questions or concerns.


Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734
Merced River Stakeholders
September 24, 2007
Kolligian Library, Room 232, UC Merced
Nearby and Free Parking


6:00 Introductions, Minutes Approval, Agenda Review

6:10 Updates
Merced Irrigation District

6:20 Merced River Stakeholders Facilitation
Group Discussion

7:10 BREAK

7:25 Merced River Stakeholders and Grant Development
Group Discussion

7:50 Merced County Planning Department Jeff Wilson
Jeff will provide us with an overview of balancing gravel mining with other natural resource interests in Merced County.

8:15 Announcements

8:25 Schedule Next meeting and wrap up
(Plus/Delta, next meeting speakers, refreshments)

For more information, please contact Gwen Huff at
(559) 497-5033 or gwenhuff@comcast.net

From Highway 99, take the “G” Street exit and cross town to Yosemite Avenue and turn right onto Yosemite. Turn left on Lake Road and proceed approximately one mile to the campus. Turn right into the first campus entry (Scholars Lane) and take this up the hill to the end of the road. Make a left by the Round-A-Bout. The library and its parking lot are here. Park anywhere there are available stalls. Here is a link to a campus map https://www.ucmerced.edu/maps/campus/ Once you’ve entered the library, take the elevator to the second floor – we will be meeting in room 232.

Past meeting minutes can be found at www.emrcd.org/stakeholders




USDA Office
Conference Room
2135 W. Wardrobe Avenue
Merced, CA 95340

Wednesday, August 15, 2007, 1:00 p.m.
Visit us on the web at www.emrcd.org
Call EMRCD for more information 209-723-6755
Fax EMRCD for more information 209-723-0880
To be added to the EMRCD agenda mailing list, please send a letter to the RCD at the above address by the 3rd day of the month preceding the meeting.





* 4. Consent Agenda

# a. Minutes of the July 18, 2007 EMRCD Board Meeting
# b. Treasury Report (July and August ‘07)
# c. DOC II and Prop 13 Grant Updates

5. Correspondence/Information Only

a. Letters
1. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
# b. Meeting Notices and Reports
1. CSDA e-NEWS July 23, 2007
2. CSDA e-NEWS July 30, 2007
3. California Watershed e-News July 30, 2007
c. Newsletters and Flyers (available to review at meeting)
1. CSDA Alliance Brochure
2. CSDA Conference Oct 1-4 2007
3. San Joaquin River Restoration Program
4. NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee Agenda
5. NACD Forestry Notes (June 2007)
6. NACD Forestry Notes (July 2007)
7. MED&R-Merced Developments (Winter 2007)
8. Shell Pipeline Company LP Safety Information
d. Office Election Resolution Ballet Information for Insurance Board

For information only.

6. Written and Oral Updates

a. NRCS Update Malia Hildebrandt
b. Watershed Coordinator Update (DOC II) Gwen Huff/
Cindy Lashbrook

c. Merced River Alliance (Prop 13) Update Karen Whipp

* 7. Planning for Annexation

For discussion and possible action.

8. Board Member Participation with Merced County Landuse
Issues and General Plan Updates

Board members come prepared to discuss current land use
issues and ways to be involved.

9. Old Business

a. Board Member Recruitment
b. Other Old Business

* 10. Priority Action Topic for Next EMRCD Agenda

For discussion and possible action.

11. Next EMRCD Board Meeting

The next EMRCD Board Meeting is scheduled for
Wednesday, Sept 19, 2007 in the USDA Office Conference Room,
2135 West Wardrobe Avenue, Merced, CA.

* 12. Adjournment of the Regular EMRCD Board Meeting, August 15, 2007

* Action
# Attachment
+ Enclosure

Date Agenda Posted August 10, 2007
Please remove after August 16, 2007__

Meeting Minutes of the
Wednesday, August 15, 2007, 1:00 p.m.
Conference Room, 2135 W. Wardrobe Ave., Merced, CA 95340
Call EMRCD for more information (209-723-6755)

Directors Present: Cathy Weber, Glenn Anderson, Bernard Wade, Bob Bliss
Directors Absent: Karen Barstow, Tony Azevedo
Others Present: Karen Whipp, EMRCD contract personnel
Cindy Lashbrook, EMRCD contract personnel and associate director (non-voting member)
Gwen Huff, EMRCD contract personnel
Malia Hildebrandt, NRCS staff
Ken Leap, Interested Citizen
Bill Hatch, Interested Citizen

Item #
President Bernie Wade called meeting to order at 1:20 pm.




Minutes of the July 18, 2007 EMRCD Board Meeting
Treasury Report June and July
DOC and Prop 13 Updates
Cathy Weber moved to approve the consent agenda.
Bob Bliss seconded the motion.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
b. Meeting Notices and Reports
CSDA e-NEWS July 23, 2007
CSDA e-NEWS July 30, 2007
California Watershed e-News July 30, 2007
c. Newsletters (available to review at the meeting)
CSDA Alliance Brochure
CSDA Conference October 1-4, 2007
NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee Agenda
NACD Forestry Notes (June 2007)
NACD Forestry Notes (July 2007)
MED&R-Merced Developments (Winter 2007)
Shell Pipeline Company LP Safety Information
d. Office Election Resolution Ballet Information for Insurance Board
So noted.

Following the review of the information items, Cathy Weber moved to have the September EMRCD Board meeting on September 26, 2007.
Seconded by Glenn Anderson.

Natural Resources Conservation Service Report, Malia Hildebrandt (A written report was submitted at meeting and will be attached to agenda packets presented at the EMRCD Board meeting)
Watershed Coordinator--DOC Report, Gwen Huff (A written report was submitted at meeting and will be attached to agenda packets presented at the EMRCD Board meeting)

During the report Gwen Huff stated that Lydia Miller asked her to send a rebuttal letter against the DWR grant proposal to all of the Merced River Stakeholders.
Bob Bliss moved that Gwen Huff contract is with the East Merced Resource Conservation District is not authorized to send the letter.
Seconded by Glenn Anderson

Merced River Alliance--Prop 13 Report, Karen Whipp and Cindy Lashbrook (Written reports were submitted at meeting and will be attached to agenda packets presented at the EMRCD Board meeting.)

An oral report was given.

There was board member discussion.

a. Board recruitment: There was brief discussion
b. Other business: no discussion
The Priority Topic for next month will be to discuss mechanism for immediate calls to action, discussions for funding sources and review the Strategic Plan.

The next EMRCD is scheduled for Wednesday, September 26, 2007, 1:00 pm in the USDA Office Conference Room, 2135 West Wardrobe Avenue, Merced, CA






UC Cooperative Extension
2145 W. Wardrobe Avenue
Merced, CA 95340

Wednesday, September 26, 2007, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Visit us on the web at www.emrcd.org
Call EMRCD for more information 209-723-6755
Fax EMRCD for more information 209-723-0880
To be added to the EMRCD agenda mailing list, please send a letter to the RCD at the above address by the 3rd day of the month preceding the meeting.





* 4. Consent Agenda

# a. Minutes of the August 15, 2007 EMRCD Board Meeting
# b. Treasury Report
# c. DOC II and Prop 13 Grant Updates

5. Correspondence/Information Only

a. Letters
1. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
# b. Meeting Notices and Reports
1. CSDA e-NEWS September 4, 2007
2. CSDA e-NEWS September 10, 2007
3. CSDA e-NEWS September 17, 2007
4. US Department of the Interior Submittal of
Fiscal Year 2008 Program Proposals
5. California Association of Resource Conservation
Districts – San Joaquin Valley Agenda for the Fall
Area Meeting
6. Understanding the Ralph M. Brown Act
c. Newsletters and Flyers (available to review at meeting)
1. CSDA July – August 2007 Magazine
2. National Woodlands Magazine
3. Noxious Times
4. Forestry Notes
5. Great Valley News
6. Conservation Connection
7. EcoAnalysts
8. NACD News and Views
9. Forestland Steward
10. Water Conservation News

For information only.

6. Written and Oral Updates

a. NRCS Update Malia Hildebrandt
b. Watershed Coordinator Update (DOC II) Gwen Huff/
Cindy Lashbrook
c. Merced River Alliance (Prop 13) Update Karen Whipp

* 7 Recording EMRCD Board Meetings Cathy Weber
For discussion and possible

*# 8. Procedures for Requesting Public Information Karen Whipp

Recommend the EMRCD Board adopt procedures
for requesting public information.

*# 9. CAL-Card Contract Addendum Merced, CA 95340 Karen Whipp

Recommend the EMRCD Board authorize the EMRCD
Board President to sign the contract addendum and resolution.

* 10. Response letter to Department of Water Resources in Karen Barstow
Regard to Letters of Opposition of Grant Proposal

For discussion and possible action.

* 11. Future Relationship Between EMRCD and Merced
River Stakeholders

For discussion and possible action.

* 12. Mechanism for Immediate Calls to Action

For discussion and possible action.

* 13. Potential Funding Sources

For discussion and possible action.

14. Old Business

a. Planning of Annexation
b. Board Member Recruitment
c. Other Old Business

* 15. Priority Action Topic for Next EMRCD Agenda

Review the EMRCD Strategic Plan.

16. Next EMRCD Board Meeting

The next EMRCD Board Meeting is scheduled for
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 in the USDA Office Conference Room,
2135 West Wardrobe Avenue, Merced, CA.

* 17. Adjournment of the Regular EMRCD Board Meeting, September 26, 2007

* Action
# Attachment
+ Enclosure

Date Agenda Posted September 21, 2007
Please remove after September 26, 2007__

East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007, 6 p.m.


I am Bryant Owens, speaking on behalf of the Planada Community Association, and other signatories to the suppressed letter of opposition Merced River Stakeholders filed against the recent East Merced RCD grant proposal

I am summarizing a letter I am submitting to make the legal record.

The meeting we are now attending is illegal and should be adjourned and any river stakeholders present should go to the Merced River Stakeholders meeting sponsored by the Bettencourt Family and other river property owners at Washington School.

For these reasons and others, the meeting we are attending is illegal:

1. The East Merced RCD is a member of the Merced River Stakeholders group, not its leader
in any sense;

2. The East Merced RCD has no authority to decide on the agenda or location of a Merced River Stakeholders meeting, except as the stakeholders agree. The Merced River Stakeholders disagree and are at this moment holding their meeting at the Washington

3. The East Merced RCD board of directors, appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors, is at present an illegally constituted legislative body;

4. The Merced River Stakeholders is not a legislative body, by common stakeholder decision after several years of discussion on its governance;

5. This illegally constituted legislative body has committed multiple violations of the California Association of RCD Guidebook and the Ralph Brown Act in the past, including the calling of this meeting and future actions already agendized on the next East Merced RCD board meeting;

6. Several individuals representing the East Merced RCD present at this meeting are committing violations of the California Law of Conflict of Interest.

To make the legal record, I am submitting our full letter and supporting documents to the East Merced RCD on the illegality of the meeting we are presently attending.

We urge the East Merced RCD board to adjourn this meeting.

East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007, 6 p.m.

David Corser, Planada Community Association, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, et al. and representing other Merced River Stakeholders

The minutes of the July Merced River Stakeholders meeting cannot be approved here tonight because:

1. The only body authorized to approve Merced River Stakeholders minutes is the Merced River Stakeholders, meeting at this moment at Washington School.
2. This is an East Merced RCD meeting, not a Merced River Stakeholders meeting.
3. East Merced RCD is a legislative body governed by the Brown Act.
4. It must include in these minutes the minutes of the last East Merced RCD meeting, which does not include any reference to this unlawful meeting here.
5. It must also include its agenda and minutes pertaining to Item #6 in its last meeting, during which it took an unlawful vote to suppress a public letter of protest from Merced River Stakeholders to an East Merced RCD grant proposal, which the state agency rejected because of that and other letters and petitions from Merced River Stakeholders against it.
6. If East Merced RCD board members and staff and staff of the Merced River Alliance assert that they constitute a subcommittee of the East Merced RCD that has unlawfully convened this present meeting, they must show in East Merced RCD minutes how their authority was generated by board action.
7. They cannot do this because the board explicitly tabled discussion of establishing a subcommittee at its last meeting. East Merced RCD August meeting notes clearly shows this.
8. Therefore, we are attending a meeting unlawfully convened by the East Merced RCD pretending to be a Merced River Stakeholders meeting (when that meeting is going on simultaneously at the Washington School) and the East Merced RCD cannot even justify this meeting in terms of its own authority because it has not authorized “subcommittees” or the like of the board to act between its regular meetings.
9. By convening this meeting at UC Merced against the express wishes of the largest group of stakeholders, the Merced River Stakeholders facilitator has abdicated her authority as the Merced River Stakeholders facilitator.
10. Why have East Merced RCD staff and board members been harassing Merced River stakeholders with a barrage of emails and phone calls to attend this unlawful meeting? Because this is a naked power play by disgruntled East Merced RCD board members and staff and the Merced River Alliance to silence the Merced River Stakeholders.
11. To defend the health of the Lower Merced River, Merccd River Stakeholders wrote publicly to oppose the East Merced RCD grant proposal. Although the best evidence of spiteful reaction is convening this unlawful meeting, there is other evidence: the Merced River Alliance newsletter no longer includes any mention of the Merced River Stakeholders; and the Stakeholders’ independent website was discontinued and its domain is up for sale.
We recommend this unlawful meeting be adjourned immediately.

From: gwenhuff@comcast.net
To: gwenhuff@comcast.net
Subject: Moving on
Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2007 12:18:58 -0700

Dear Stakeholders -

For those of you not at last nights meeting at UC Merced, I would like to let you know that I am moving to Sacramento and will be resigning from the East Merced RCD and as facilitator of the Merced River Stakeholders group.

The East Merced RCD has funding to facilitate one more MRS meeting, to be held November 19th. After that time, current funding from EMRCD grants to facilitate the stakeholders will cease. At the November meeting you will have the opportunity to set a course for the stakeholders and decide how you would like to move forward with this change of circumstances. I hope that you will be able to attend this important meeting. At the direction of the MRS, we are seeking a facilitator for that meeting and the meeting notification will be forthcoming.

Unfortunately, some members of the MRS have decided to form a separate organization and are using the name Merced River Stakeholders. This will, no doubt, be causing some confusion with meeting notifications. Please note that communications from the East Merced Resource Conservation District (EMRCD) and it's staff (Cindy Lashbrook and Karen Whipp) will relate to the MRS meetings that are facilitated by the EMRCD.

It has been a pleasure working with you for the last year and half. The MRS is a very special and important group. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.


Gwen Huff
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

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