On the announcement of departure of UC Merced's second chancellor

Submitted: Sep 05, 2010
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

A member of the Badlands Journal editorial board was asked by a UC Merced student for a meeting so that he could learn more about the campus where he is going to college. The request was received the day Chancellor Steve Kang announced he would depart the campus at the end of the next academic year.

 

We thought, rather than having coffee with the student and attempting to tell that story in an hour or so, we would do two things: first, refer him to an audio tape made in the classroom of UC Merced historian Gregg Herken, a member of the founding faculty of social sciences, humanities and art at the campus, and who directed the production of a laughable bit of bobcatflak called The Fairy Shrimp Chronicles: An informal history of the founding of UC Merced. The students of that class learned how to write history as propaganda and suppress vital information, useful skills if they seek careers in the University of California system.

 

Nevertheless, we thought we would use the occasion of the chancellor’s announcement as an opportunity to re-post some documents from Badlands Journal in the hope of providing some historical perspective at this time.

 

A lot of dirty hands with no names attached were pushing Kang out because he was at least as much interested in building up a balanced faculty as he was in pushing the latest scheme of our finance, insurance and real estate special interests and their political lackies – a medical school. Throughout the health-insurance reform debate, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Pimlico Kid-Annapolis MD, who is said to represent us, refused to have any town hall meetings on reform, but let it be known in Congress that the price for his vote was a piece of pork called UC Merced Med. That little squealer didn’t make it through the final negotiations.

 

Badlands Journal editorial board

 

 

 

Another source familiar with Kang and critical of his leadership style said some people were upset over some of the difficult decisions Kang has had to make. For example, the source said Kang's decision to push harder for more faculty -- and not the medical school -- didn't make everyone happy. … The abrupt nature of his announcement has raised questions about whether or not his style of leadership was responsible for losing him the support of Merced's political establishment.

Sources with knowledge of the matter told the Sun-Star that Kang was "not a good fit" for Merced and that his "wishy-washy" leadership wasn't what the school needed in its infancy. The sources did not want to be named because of their ongoing relationship with the university…

 

9-4-10

Merced Sun-Star

Though he had critics, UC Merced Chancellor Kang wasn't forced out

Division on campus -- push med school or hire faculty?...JONAH OWEN LAMB
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2010/09/04/v-print/1556298/though-he-had-critics-uc-merced.html

9-3-10

Kang stepping down as UC Merced chancellor

He plans on getting back to the classroom after taking a year off...JAMIE OPPENHEIM
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2010/09/03/v-print/1554905/kang-stepping-down-as-uc-merced.html

Our View: Kangs added much value to community

The chancellor guarded the freedom of scholarly inquiry with such quiet zeal.

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2010/09/04/v-print/1556307/our-view-kangs-added-much-value.html 

 

 

 

1-23-07

Badlandsjournal.com

"This Magic Moment": Open Letter #1 to UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang

http://www.badlandsjournal.com/2007-01-23/00224

 

Dear Dr. Kang,

Welcome to Merced, once a Valley town and gateway to Yosemite, now a "crossroads" in the middle of the greatest real estate speculation crash in its history, thanks to the arrival of UC Merced.

What a "magic moment," as Great Valley Center (GVC) President, Carol Whitesides tells it. But you would already know that because UC Merced has absorbed the Center in yet another of the public/private, win-win partnerships for which our Valley is famous.

One always got the impression from the First Chancellor that she fervently believed that Valley history began when she got here, but you have arrived in Merced as a "clean slate." UC has already gutted what brief institutional memory might have adhered to UC Merced, reinforcing its institutional strategy of pleading ignorance to history.

Yet, for a campus so young, Dr. Kang, you have inherited quite a colorful history. Allow us to list a few of its grosser features:

· UC was donated land with the richest fields of vernal pools and their associated endangered species in California;

· UC was told there was adequate water beneath this land; there wasn’t;

· UC, Gov. Gray Davis, Rep. Gary Condit, state Sen. Dick Monteith, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, regents from the Valley and prominent Valley interests conspired with state and federal resource agencies to corrupt environmental laws and regulations in order to build the campus on this land;

· In 2000, the state non-partisan legislative analyst office told the Legislature UC Merced was an unnecessary campus;

· UC Merced propagandists, including the first chancellor, have repeatedly and deceitfully described the campus as the only UC campus in the Central Valley, forgetting the existence of UC Davis;

· UC Merced, barred from agricultural research by the powerful, established UC Davis, must ignore and destroy the agriculture around it, denying that the only purpose for a UC campus in the Central Valley is agriculture; if UC Merced cannot be an agriculture school, Merced agriculture must disappear;

· In view of UC Davis medical school, UC Merced’s claims to establish one are the mere, empty flak of a boondoggle land deal pretending to be a university;

· However, if UC Merced, anchor tenant for eastern San Joaquin Valley growth from Folsom to Porterville, were to establish a medical research facility, as growth-induced Valley air pollution attains the distinction of being the worst in the nation UC would study the ravages of respiratory illness on children and the elderly while continuing to deny any complicity with the environmental conditions creating growing respiratory illness;

· UC sold Kearney Park in Fresno, donated to establish another agricultural campus;

· UC Santa Cruz is the university’s legitimate annex to Silicon Valley;

· UC Merced’s future is tied to its memorandum of understanding with UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory;

· UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been testing depleted uranium bombs for years and is now seeking to establish a level-4 biowarfare laboratory at Site 300 near Tracy; in other words, UC has already contaminated some Valley groundwater with depleted uranium and now wishes to expand its bomb testing and experiment with the most toxic substances known to man, here in the most productive agricultural valley in the world;

· UC Merced has been sued on its long-range development plan, on sewer and water, on its annexation plan, and on its new town;

· Every other environmental lawsuit brought in Merced County is attributable to the chaotic growth induced by UC Merced;

· UC Merced stimulated a speculative bubble in Merced that drove its real estate values to be among the least affordable in the nation, followed by the present slump in which it has the highest foreclosure rate in the state;

· UC Merced wiped out the ability of Merced County to do any further local planning;

· The corruption of local land-use authority is complete;

· UC Merced stated it would mitigate for its growth by purchasing easements on 68,000 acres of neighboring ranchland; it bought easements for 25,000 acres;

· Those easements are inadequate because they are not comparable land and/or fail to provide monitoring standards required by the public agencies who paid for them; i.e. UC Merced defrauded the taxpayers of California for more than $16 million;

· UC, on behalf of UC Merced, is currently trying to intervene in a lawsuit over critical habitat in order to get exempted from the designation for its project;

· UC has continually conspired in the state Legislature and Congress to weaken state and federal laws protecting the environment, notably the California Environmental Quality Act and the federal Endangered Species Act, simply to build the land-deal boondoggle known as UC Merced;

· UC wrote an amicus curiae brief to the state Supreme Court supporting CSU Monterey Bay’s case that state agencies do not have to pay for mitigation of off-site impacts; UC attorney Lawrence Holtz wrote that if the court did not rule in favor of CSU-MB, UC Merced would have to pay $200 million in off-site mitigation costs, which it had promised Merced and tried in that suit to evade;

· Environmentalists and an honest Republican, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, defeated Pombo in November;

· The House Resources Committee Pombo chaired has now had its original title restored, House Committee on Natural Resources; and Cardoza is no longer a member of that committee;

· Whitesides’ “magic moment” for building more roads for more growth, degrading more natural resources and agriculture, worsening air quality, water quality and supply, is part of a “regional planning” scheme originating with UC Merced;

· UC Merced is the best proof there is in the Valley that regional planning, driven by state government entirely controlled by finance, insurance and real estate interests, is nothing but a developer confidence game that started with the UC regents;

· There was no legitimate reason for UC Merced, it has created nothing but havoc in the San Joaquin Valley and has elevated possibly the worst collection of “leaders” the Valley has ever had;

· This Valley has sunk from politicians like Assembly Speaker Ralph Brown 60 years ago and Assemblyman John Williamson 40 years ago to the present gang of pretentious thugs in federal, state and municipal government that has, with “one voice,” repeatedly corrupted the Brown Act, the California Public Records Act and the Williamson Act, all for the benefit of UC Merced and its induced slurb.

This is the truth about the “magic moment” you’ve inherited, Dr. Kang. You are floating in a sea of propaganda concocted by liars and parroted by ignoramuses for the benefit of a handful of special interests in a position to profit from proximity to a UC campus. You are chancellor of a fraud on the Public Trust. The UC Merced project is totally unworthy of the once greatest public university in America.

 

 

10-22-07

Open Letter #2 to UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang

http://www.badlandsjournal.com/2007-10-22/00376

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

The production and dissemination of ignorance should not be the function of a chancellor of the state’s public highest education institution, even if only to the faculty on his own campus. The root of the problem with this communication by UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang lies in the UC claim that it unilaterally, with the highest environmental purposes in mind, has reconfigured the footprint of the campus, choosing prime farmland rather than sensitive ecological habitat for its new development plans. The local public anticipated this move as inevitable in early 2003. A paper trail of public documents a dozen years old clearly shows that UC did nothing – from the original choice of the site to the golf-course site and forward—that it was not forced to do by an environmentally engaged public and regulatory agencies.

UC Merced “planning” is occurring on a foundation of political corruption. This is a real estate boondoggle project, a publicly funded anchor tenant that induced a gigantic local speculative real estate bubble, which has popped. In addition to extreme political pressure on local, state and federal resource and land-use agencies, UC, in league with finance, insurance and real estate special interests, has been involved in attempts to gut the federal Endangered Species Act and the state Williamson Act for its own benefit. Lawyers representing UC Merced recently concluded a series of negotiations and the chancellor applauds them for their “creativity.” The Merced participants found UC Merced to be negotiating in such dubious faith that they had to withdraw.

The chancellor’s communication to UCM faculty is a preemptive bit of flak to cover over more news of the unraveling consequences of a corrupt land-use process and to divert attention from an appellate court CEQA hearing on the UC Community Plan later this month.

Evidence continues to mount that it is a misfortune and an insult to the San Joaquin Valley that its UC campus was founded as nothing but a boondoggle anchor tenant for a huge speculative real estate boom. Merced now leads the nation in foreclosure activity at the rate of 1 per 68 households. The national average is 1 per 544.

 

 

SUBJECT LINE: A Message from Chancellor Kang

October 5, 2007

Dear Faculty and Staff Members:

I am pleased to share with you updated information about the environmental permitting process that you may read or hear about in the press in the coming weeks. The information involves revisions we are making in Phase II development plans for our campus and university community to reduce impacts on wetlands, improve land-use efficiency and move more efficiently through the required federal permit application process.

Under Gov. Gray Davis, UC established the “red and green teams” in state and federal resources agencies. These teams were composed of department heads, agency staff, legislators, local government officials, and staff from ethically challenged environmental, conservation and agricultural groups. Their mandate was to “streamline” i.e. circumvent the environmental laws and regulations applicable to the campus site. Meanwhile, in Washington, UC lobbied to eliminate the critical habitat designation section in the Endangered Species Act.

These are very positive changes that will expedite the permitting process and allow us to move ahead with full-scale development with renewed momentum and confidence. A press release will be issued later this morning and posted on the campus homepage at www.ucmerced.edu .

At this point, the “positive changes” consist of a proposal to reduce the footprint and to do a joint EIR/EIS, as should have been done in the beginning in Long Range Development Plan and the University Community Plan. It is a concept proposal, nothing more.

BACKGROUND
In order to be able to plan for future development of the campus beyond the 105-acre current campus footprint, the university must obtain a Section 404 permit that is required by the U.S. Clean Water Act. The land set aside for these future developments, which the university has already acquired, includes some federally protected wetlands that cannot be developed without the permit. (The current campus development includes no protected lands.) The permitting agency is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The University of California has a history at many of its campuses of building out onto lands that have been protected, conserved and preserved.

UC Merced submitted a complete permit application to the Corps in February 2002. The Corps is required to review the application against applicable environmental law and to seek public comment on its possible impacts.

The Corps rejected UC Merced’s application because it was incomplete. It was submitted early in the year the campus was supposed to open. As the Corps said at the time, Phase I of UC Merced was built at UC’s “own risk.” The community and the state expect UC to conduct itself openly and honorably. Californians expect its world famous “research” university to have done its research and fulfilled its permits before building, not afterward.

In the five years since our application was filed, we’ve engaged in numerous productive meetings with the Corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agencies that share jurisdiction over federally protected wetlands, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game. We’ve learned a great deal about the unique qualities of the regions environment while demonstrating long-term benefits a major research university is already bringing to this underserved region. These changes are the result of a mutual desire to move forward with the project while limiting its impact to the best of our ability.

UC had years to learn about the unique qualities of the region’s environment. It did its own studies and consulted voluminous previous studies on the region’s flora and fauna. There was no lack of knowledge about the ecology of this region. For the chancellor to state otherwise is to disseminate ignorance. Because UC knew so much about the regional ecology, with the help of regional business interests and their political representatives, UC has made continual attempts to circumvent regulatory compliance.
UC Merced has constantly employed its academic authority to erase and rewrite the history of Merced depending on the legal and regulatory obstacles before it. Members of the public find this arrogant, ignorant and deceitful flak unacceptable.

The previous proposal for a 910-acre main campus, finalized and certified in the campus Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) by the UC Board of Regents in January 2002, was our best initial estimate of what would be needed to fulfill the long-term mission of the 10th University of California campus. It was not based on a detailed architectural plan but rather a set of assumptions related to building design, topography, aesthetics, traffic management and other factors.

This " set of assumptions" was challenged in superior and appellate courts, where politically motivated decisions were rendered on behalf of UC. These faulty assumptions will now be used to tier off a new EIR/EIS.

Now that we have several years of research, teaching and operational experience on site, we are confident we can meet our long-term objectives on a slightly smaller footprint. Therefore, a new strategy for obtaining the 404 permit will allow the process to move along with renewed vision and momentum.

This “new strategy” was made necessary by a number of factors – political rather than ecological: the replacement of a senior congressman, Gary Condit, by a freshman, Dennis Cardoza; the loss of the several attacks in Congress on provisions in the ESA that were tailor-made to assist UC Merced; revelations of corruption in federal resource agencies that strengthened their resolve to enforce the law; various public relations disasters that occurred on the campus since it opened; and the manifest truth that UC Merced induced a wild speculatively driven real estate boom in Merced, the collapse of which has given the region notoriety as the top city for foreclosure activity in the nation. The collapse of this UC-induced speculative real estate bubble, projected to worsen in the time ahead, leaves more than adequate empty housing stock for UC Merced faculty and staff, erasing any argument for a UC Community new town adjacent to the campus. For faculty and staff not interested in buying houses with falling values, rentals in the north San Joaquin Valley are plentiful at moderate rates. Merced is reported by RealFacts to have the lowest rental rates in California.

What changes are implicit in the revised plan?

The size and configuration of the campus will change somewhat without affecting the overall scope or mission of the university. Specifically, the northern, eastern and southern perimeters will be redrawn. In effect, the campus will shift slightly south, with about 230 acres added to the southern perimeter and 335 acres taken away from the northern and eastern perimeters. The existing 105-acre campus, which lies within both the former and the redesigned footprints, will not be affected. These changes will reduce the size of the main campus at build-out from 910 acres to about 810 acres, or approximately 10.98%. The adjacent university community will also change slightly in dimensions and configuration, increasing from 2,133 acres to 2,160 acres. Total land needs for both projects will decline from 3,043 acres to 2,970 acres, or about 2%. (Click here to view a map that outlines previous and revised proposed campus and community footprints.)

All UC planners are doing is trading important rangeland/endangered species habitat for prime agricultural land vital to the economic survival of Merced County.

Why are these changes being made?

The change in the campus and adjacent university community footprint will reduce the amount of environmentally sensitive wetlands affected by overall campus development from about 121 acres to 81 acres, or approximately 33 percent. When added to changes made in late 2000, when the campus was repositioned further south from its originally intended location, the impact on wetlands has been reduced by about 95%. These changes support the university’s dual objectives of building a world-class research university to serve the people of the Central Valley and state while respecting the environmental resources on or near the campus site and balancing and minimizing impacts on both farmland and natural resources.

UC Merced created a more acceptable footprint and moved its plans for later phases onto prime farmland rather than rangeland/wildlife habitat because it was forced to by environmental groups and resource agencies. The chancellor misspeaks, saying this was done in support of UC “objectives.” Members of the local public are tired of UC constantly changing its story to conceal the fragmented, mismanaged waste of public funds beneath the surface. A most glaring example is that there is no coordination of mitigation for UC Merced impacts, therefore UC cannot assure its conservation strategies. All one has to do is look at the UC Parkway, the impacts of which are being mitigated outside the range of the impacted species. The public has no confidence and no legal assurance that UC will not develop its preserved, reserved and conserved real estate or that this land will remain protected. More than 10,000 acres of deep-ripped seasonal pastureland in eastern Merced County compromises UC’s ability to mitigate for its impacts in the eco-region it is impacting. While UC Merced tries to isolate its project and the project impacts, in fact UC Merced has opened up the entire east side of the county to induced growth. Today’s agricultural conversion from pastureland to orchard is tomorrow’s subdivision.

Beyond the environmental benefits of a revised campus footprint, what other benefits does the change bring?
Planning the physical campus expansion beyond Phase I is essential for continuing the development of stellar academic and research programs. By knowing the likely shape and size of the campus, academic administrators and the faculty will be better informed as they engage in planning for the future. In addition, campus officials recently began discussions for revising the campus LRDP since the timing is opportune to do so. In consultation with academic administrators, campus planners may consider options including greater density, repositioning of structures and facilities, and other measures that will improve land-use efficiency.

Will this change affect the current first phase of development in any way?

No. The design of Phase I is finished and is not expected to change. Construction on Phase I, which can accommodate up to 5,000 students, will continue as scheduled. Next year we look forward to the beginning of construction on the new Social Sciences and Management Building at full-plan size. Also, the next Science and Engineering building is scheduled to open in fall 2012, with construction projected to begin in 2010. Nearer term construction includes a new parking lot opening this month, the expansion of the Yablokoff-Wallace Dining Commons this year and other parking areas by the end of the year.

As evidenced by several major planning initiatives embarked upon this year, the change in the environmental permitting plan is just one of numerous factors at play. To ensure the long-term success of UC Merced, I will rely on many campus community members to participate in the numerous interrelated planning aspects including the campuswide Strategic Academic Planning process, the planning of two proposed professional schools (management and medical) and the overall Long Range Development Plan of the campus. This is why most of us joined UC Merced in its formative years --- to plan and build a world-class research university from the ground up. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.

UC did not plan to pay for its infrastructure needs. UC sited the campus on one of the nation’s most valuable ecological areas. UC Merced did not do an EIR/EIS in the beginning of its planning process. UC did not plan for its water supply and induced leapfrog development by hooking into the Merced City water system. Everything UC Merced has done has been reaction rather than planning, illustrating the original point: it was a real estate boondoggle. One of the best examples of UC reaction has been its indemnification of local land-use authorities for legal costs arising from lawsuits filed by members of the Merced public against ill-planned phases of the campus development. This indemnification is the payment of state public funds to local public agencies promoting a speculative residential and commercial real estate boom anchored by UC Merced.

I would like to acknowledge Janet Young, Brad Samuelson, Tom Lollini, John Garamendi, Larry Salinas, Patti Istas, UC Counsel Anthony Garvin, and outside counsel Clark Morrison and Alicia Guerra for their creativity and diligence in devising a new plan for Phase II development that will fully meet our objectives while reaffirming our sensitivity to environmental protection and good citizenship. I also want to thank former Acting Chancellor Rod Park for his significant efforts toward this objective.

Steve Kang
Chancellor

The Badlands Journal editorial board suggests that UC Merced faculty and staff research for themselves the extensive public documents on this project, beginning with the 1995 EIR, which stated among other fictions that there was water in them there hills and the land was free. Your administration should be happy to make these documents available to you. If not, recall that UC is a public agency and it has to have the documents and make them available to you.

 

 

12-21-04

Reply to a local planning official

From: Lydia Miller, President San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Merced CA
Steve Burke Protect Our Water, Modesto CA

To: Merced County Board of Supervisors Merced CA December 21, 2004 (via fax and email)
Re: December 21, 2004 Board agenda item: 10:30 a.m. Planning - 2004 Cycle III General Plan Amendment; University Community Plan.

http://www.badlandsjournal.com/2008-10-14/005618

 

The following is submitted for the record regarding the Board’s consideration of the University Community Plan.

An article titled “Reply to the Chancellor on UCP” was recently posted on the Badlands website (http://badlandsjournal.com). A local planner responded with the question: What do you think will happen if we don’t plan for the growth that will result from UC Merced?

It is a serious question, we appreciate it, and will try to articulate what we think about Merced County/UC Merced planning. The first word that caught our attention in the planners question was the word, we. Who, we wondered was the planner intending to include in the word, “we”?

Participants in the sordid political deal in which Merced got the UC in return for Condit delivering the Valley for Davis in 1998, ripping the campus from the talons of Fresno where they had committed to locate at least a medical school as early as 1965, and had land already donated in Kearney Park?

Participants in the whole cover up, inconsistency, tendentious obfuscation, regulatory-agency avoidance in the process to streamline UCM permitting run out of the governor’s and congressman’s office?

Participants in the process of gagging the press, buying the press, and intimidating reporters so that no critical questions would appear in the media about the UC project?

Participants in the UCM propaganda machine, which featured huge, UC-produced, publicly paid-for PR supplements in the local paper?

Local paper regurgitation of UCM press releases as objective journalism? Tiny tots in UCM T-shirts lining state Capitol corridors?

Greenlining Institute, proclaiming all Hispanic students would, should, and could go to UC if only they could stay in their family homes here in the Valley?

Promoters of a campaign to name a mascot that gave the prize to a species that does not appear in Nature?

Great Valley Center’s smart-growth propaganda, emanating from that tower of planning rectitude, Modesto?

Dot-driven public focus groups confronting lists of projects that contained all pre-cooked possibilities but no project?

The Nature Conservancy?

Producers of meaningless planning documents like the CAA, CPAC, CAPS, various MCAG plans, Merced Water Supply Plan, NCCP/HCP, storm drain master plan?

Grant hustlers using the East Merced Resource Conservation District to legitimize bogus plans and be a conduit for mis-spending public funds?

Authors of numerous General Plan amendments that have rendered a weak document utterly unintelligible as a planning tool?

The red and green teams?

The black-and-blue team?

Scientists scouring the pastures for endangered species who also found a dead baby Black Bear?

Participants in the political process of suppressing ground-truthed science about the biological inventories on UCM land?

The political geniuses behind adopting a blanket Agricultural Preserve over most of the county to mitigate for UC, the most significant restriction of private-property rights in the history of the county?

Right-wing propagandists who whipped up a mob of land owners against the much less intrusive Critical Habitat Designation?

Every scofflaw in the county Planning Department?

Members of a county bureaucracy that systematically obstructs public access to public documents?

Aggregate-company and developer lawyers who write planning documents and General Plan amendments?

Private and publicly funded indemnifiers against lawsuits opposing local land-use decisions? Politically directed judges?

Contemptuous EIR-writing, finger-flipping, harassing consultants?

Packard Foundation money launderers?

Venal, punitive local political staffers, hit squads for congressmen, state legislators and the special interests who pay them?

Land-boom speculators in elective and appointed public offices?

Elected officials that constantly, publicly harass members of the public who object to what only the county calls a planning process?

Returning to the question: “What do you think will happen if we don’t plan for the growth that will result from UC Merced?”, the next word that perhaps requires more definition is the word “plan” itself.

Now, what could the planner have meant by this pregnant term?

A hopelessly out-of-date General Plan created in 1992 as the result of a lawsuit brought by the public against a county that could not provide the court with evidence that there was a Merced County General Plan; a General Plan the state Attorney General directed the county to update at least every decade; a General Plan that was never followed anyway, but has now been rendered absurd by the superimposition of huge development amendments over a plan that valued the county’s agricultural and natural resources?

The donation of a large tract of land to UC by a land trust too hapless to run a golf course during the height of popularity of that sport, manipulated by a local water lawyer, (his partner under indictment for defrauding Waterford), and a county planning department unwilling to enforce environmental law on its wetlands takes?

The wholesale use of programmatic UC EIRs to secure mandates for “plans to make plans” that avoid any concrete analysis of inevitable negative impacts to natural resources, public health and safety that set a new, low, irresponsible planning standard for Merced County? 

Lawyer-guided, side-stepping of inconvenient permits, and building without them?

The policy of UC to continually whine that UCM is the first campus it has attempted to build since serious environmental protection laws were passed, therefore it can’t really be held accountable to laws of the land? The splitting of land-use authority in two pieces: the county and UC?

The splitting of local planning offices in two: the county Planning Department and the UC Development Planning Office? Wholesale confusion and lack of coordination between the two offices and between one or the other or both of them with the City of Merced?

The complete lack of an adequate, comprehensive water plan for eastern Merced County?

The disturbing eagerness and insanity of UC and its speculating boosters, landowners, and surrounding developers to double and triple the size of the Merced population in what has become the worst air-pollution basin in the nation?

The willingness of the City of Merced to break its own ordinance to supply water and sewer services to UCM, once UC promised to indemnify it from legal challenges to its decision?

A resource-easement program designed to fail?

The wholesale, unrelenting stream of planning propaganda in place of accurate information, leaving the public in as much dark as could be decently managed at every step in the process? (For just one example, the completely bogus presentation of the Williamson Act as mitigation for UC and its induced development.)

Leading the public into unpleasant speculations about future suburbs that could be named Smithville, Kelseyville, Crookhamton, Cardoza/Coelho Azorean Estates, Cuidad Cortez-Keene, Lynch-Adam-dAdamoville, Tatum Corners, Wellman Retirement Community, Lyons Industrial Park?

Every project in the county driven by the heretofore not really, fully, completely permitted location of UCM?

Rumblings of bribery and corruption in the county Planning Department?

In conclusion, what do we think will happen if we don’t plan for the growth that will result from UC Merced? Well, Mr. Planner, the only answer we can give is: what’s happening at the moment. Merced’s agricultural and natural resources are being auctioned off to the highest bidders because of what you and your fellow planners did, while subjecting the public to an endless barrage of bureaucratic procedures and documents claiming you would not do exactly what you have done, are doing and will continue to do until your actions become so transparently corrupted that even the local judiciary will be unable to blind itself to them.

Sincerely,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

Cc: Interested parties
------------------------------


What if all the lies had not been told?

What if the Great Valley Center and the University of California had not advocated the faith that “growth was inevitable,” and simply respected the environmental laws and regulations on the books?

What if Great Valley Center had said that the growth projections of their developer sponsors and contributors and the California Department of Finance were unacceptable?

What if the Pomboza (representatives Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced/Maryland) had not tried three times to gut crucial provisions in the Endangered Species Act to allow even more construction of half-built subdivisions losing homeowners by the day?

What if there had been any concern in local governments for environmental law and regulation beyond how to avoid both?

What if there had been more than a tiny handful of people willing to resist publicly the wholesale destruction of environmental law and regulation in Merced County during the speculative real estate boom that has now, catastrophically, busted?

What if development had actually paid for itself?

What if local McClatchy outlets, the Merced one led by a squalid speculator in a half-million-dollar house, had written accurate journalism instead of being the chief pimp for finance, insurance, real estate, University of California. Riverside Motorsports Park and the WalMart distribution center?

What if Valley judges had ruled to uphold environmental law and the laws of public process in cases involving the permitting of developments that not only ruined the environment but, if not the entire global finance economy, at least the economy of these Main-turning-Mean streets?

What if people opposed to their own environmental destruction had been able to withstand the public hazing dished out by rightwing politicians on the dias and in the audience that they were “socialists” and “anti-growth nuts,” “tree-huggers,” “fairy shrimp lovers,” etc.?

What if more people in Merced had regarded the economy as something other than a casino and politics as more than a high school popularity contest?

What if agricultural special interests, who benefit constantly from the help of eco-justice advocates, had not demonized them completely behind their backs, as if farm and ranchland ownership were a license to lie, cheat and steal? What if agriculture could escape its schizophrenic state – are we farmers or are we owners of parcels for development? What if local, state and federal government did not perpetually subsidize our yeomen stewards of attractive real estate parcels for future development?

What if our esteemed local business and political leaders had conceived of economic growth as something – anything – other than housing construction? What if they had realized that housing is about the most wasteful economic growth investment possible? What if they began to cope with the contradiction between their “free-market” ideology and their abject begging of government for grants and loans, bailouts and subsidies for the stupidities of the Merced Main Street?

What if the term “jobs-housing balance” had ever been taken seriously?

What if, as Mayor Ellie Wooten recently said, 80 percent of the entire Merced housing market actually was speculative?

What if local government had actually retained any meaningful control of growth after the arrival of UC Merced?

What if landowners, developers, financial and insurance institutions and local, state and federal politicians had not conspired o destroy the environment and economy of Merced, in some instances including their own institutions?

What if any elected or appointed official among Merced County’s land-use boards and councils had ever taken their responsibilities as anything other than to enrich themselves and their cronies?

What if planning and administrative staff had planned rather than accommodated growth that is both environmentally and economically ruinous?

What if any of these complacent, overpaid, incompetent officials had ever had a clue about the relationship between the environment and the economy, between protection of natural resources and the greedy, speculative boom, or the difference between housing growth and economic growth? What if they had ever had any sense of the balance of things, rather than becoming experts in coercion of the public and corruption of the laws?

 

11-26-02

FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT!! Another Dull-witted boy.

DQ -- UC Gravy Train

http://www.badlandsjournal.com/2006-11-16/00199

One morning, when the dull-witted boy and his friend, Hector, reached the railroad tracks while biking to school, they encountered a stalled train. Behind them, as far as they could see, were automobiles waiting to get across the tracks. Looking down the tracks in both directions, they saw thousands and thousands of sheets ofpaper littering the gravel, the yards beside the tracks and the streets behind them and beyond them.

They saw it was a strange train, made up of cars they had never seen. Instead of flat cars, box cars, lumber cars, cattle cars or car cars, each car of this train looked like a passenger car with a suite of offices inside it. Before them was a suite with large, corner offices with big windows for bosses at both ends of the car and little cubicles with tiny windows for secretaries in the middle.

But what caught their attention most of all was the name of the train. Little Hector, as some readers may recall, was a train fanatic who knew the names of a lot of different railroad companies by heart. But he had never seen this one.

It was called the "UC Gravy Train." The gold letters were painted on royal blue. It didn't even have any graffiti on it. Hector was amazed.Just then an old brakeman passed by, walking up the track through the paper litter.

"Why's the train stopped?" the dull-witted boy asked.

"Son, it's derailed but that ain't half the story," the brakeman said. "This is the longest train in the history of California gravy trains. It's got 47 locomotives. This train is actually goes all the way to Sacramento, stalling car traffic all the way."

"Wow, this UC Gravy Train is one long train," the dull-witted boy said.

"You can say that again," the brakeman said.

"Wow, this UC Gravy Train is one long train," Hector said.

"Where is it derailed?" the dull-witted boy asked.

"Right here in Merced, wouldn't you know it?" the brakeman said. "Three blocks from City Hall."

"Why here?" Hector asked.

"Human error," the brakeman said.

"What are all these offices doing on it?" the dull-witted boy asked.

"Well, that's your staff," the brakeman said.

"What's staff?" "Well, your staff is what makes up most of your gravy train," the brakeman explained. "You can't have a gravy train what without you have staff, see. The two go together."

"Well, where's the gravy?" Hector asked.

"And where's the potatoes to put the gravy on?" the dull-witted boy said.

"This is pretty deep stuff for youngsters your age, mebbe it's out of your depth," the brakeman said.

"Try us," the dull-witted boy replied. "We ask dumb questions."

"You too?" the brakeman asked. "OK, I'll give it a try. Where to begin?

"Well, you see, you got your taxpayer -- that's the ones that work for their livings, like me. And your taxpayer pays his taxes to your government. Your government is run by those crooks we elect every two or four years or six years and, of course, their staff. You still with me?"

"You mean like Mr. UC Merced and Senor UC Merced, that Rusty guy from Los Banos, who thought about selling his water to LA once, and them others?" the dull-witted boy asked.

"Say, you're well informed for a youngster," the brakeman said. "You must read the newspapers."

"Nope, I can't say as I do," the dull-witted boy said. "I got uncles."

"Well, anyways, as I was saying, "you can't have your gravy train without your politicians making a pork barrel. It's your pork barrel that attracts your gravy train. Those are the essential ingredients," the brakeman said. "To repeat: politicians, pork barrel, gravy train."

"What's a pork barrel?" the dull-witted boy asked. "A pig in a bucket?"

"You pour the gravy in the pork barrel?" Hector, who was still only in the second grade, asked.

"You boys have your dumb questions down real good," the old man said. "You're pretty close there but -- on account of it's a government thing -- it's not as simple as it sounds. But ..." he paused and scratched his head, "actually it is as simple as that but they make it look as complicated as they can because the taxpayers don't like to see their money turned to gravy but your politicians are trying to get all the tax money they can to build projects in their home districts they can put their names on. For instance, since Senor UC Merced won the election, he's gonna want his name on the football field at the new UC Merced, right up there with Coca Cola and your state Holstein Breeders Association. But he can't get his name up on it if it don't exist so he has to get his pork barrel going, see.

"Your pork barrel is kinda like home brew," the brakeman said. "Your uncles make home brew?"

"Yep," the dull-witted boy said."It sort of smells, don't it? And it attracts flies?"

"Yep. Well, your political pork barrel ferments just like your home brew," the old brakeman said. "But in the beginning, it's just an idea, an idea that looks like it's going to make money for people who like to make money, see? But what makes the greed turn sweet, taste fine and go down like velvet is that it ain't gonna cost them nothing. The money is gonna come from somebody else's taxes. That's your gravy. You got to have the pork barrel to get the gravy, understand?"

The dull-witted boy and Hector found this more interesting than a book full of fractions.

"Now, the way it works is this: once you get your pork barrel working in your district and your politicians working in government, the next thing you know you got a gravy train full of staff."

"Yeah, but what's staff?" the dull-witted boy asked. "I don't understand staff."

"You staff just shows up," the old man said.

"Where from?" Hector asked.

"Nobody knows the answer to that," the brakeman said, scratching his head. "It's just a fact of nature that when your get your pork barrel filling with tax money, your staff shows up. It's like them mud holes out east of town. When you got your pork barrel working, here came the scientific staff came in on the gravy train and the next thing you know, them mud holes are being called "vernal pools" and new little critters are being discovered every day. Every year, when they fill up with water, here come them fairy shrimp -- just like staff to a pork barrel, see?"

"I think so," the dull-witted boy said.

"Then, when the mud holes dry up, the fairy shrimp go away. Some say they go into the mud and go to sleep in little seeds. Nature's a mysterious thing, boys. Mebbe it's the same with staff. You can never tell. But when you got your pork barrel and your tax dollar working together, they produce staff and a gravy train. Fact of life."

"What's a pork barrel look like?" Little Hector asked. "I never seen one."

"Well, of course your essential pork barrel is an invisible Wish. It could start working anywhere -- like in a donut shop or over a steak dinner or at a service club lunch speech. But it starts as a wish, a dream, a fantasy.

"It's just like an invisible little seed in the beginning, see," the old brakeman continued. " It starts out in somebody's mind like an itch. He can't see it, it itches and he wants to get rid of it so he starts broadcasting it here and there around town, telling his friends and bankers. But it won't ever amount to anything unless it's fertilized."

"How do you make something invisible grow?" the dull-witted boy.

"That would be your application of large quantities of bullshit," the old man said. "Your farmers will say horseshit's good for trees, old chicken shit works for other crops but to get your pork barrel out of the conceptual stage, liberal quantities of bullshit is the only form of fertilizer ever known to work.

"But once you get germination and growth, your genuine political pork barrel comes to life in many different forms," the old brakeman said, "oftentimes in the form of roads, paid for by federal highway funds.

"In fact, in Washington, DC, where they make federal highway funds, they have a cult of religious visionaries called The Lobbyists. These mystics believe federal highway funds are the Mother of the Pork Barrel and the Grandmother of the Gravy Train.

"Other times it's your dams. Lord, how the politicians love a dam, particularly out here in the West. You have no idea how much bullshit mystical lobbyists have been spread around trying to grow dam wishes. They say there ain't no river around that couldn't be improved by putting a tax-paid dam on it.

"Then you got your irrigation canals," he continued. "You have to have your canals so you can grow your cotton so the taxpayer can pay the cotton grower the difference between the world price of cotton and what the American cotton grower can get his congressmen to get the taxpayer to believe it should be worth to a patriotic American cotton farmer to grow it.

"Now, this is too deep for you or me, boys," the old brakeman paused. "Some call your water and your agricultural subsidies the highest, most mysterious of all pork barrels. When you talk water and agricultural subsidies you're talking about the highest mysteries of tribal cults. Nobody but members of the tribe understand them or get any benefit from them. These subsidies don't leave a trace except in the US Treasury and some local bank accounts.

"Take rice," he continued. "See, your genuine, patriotic American farmer can't be expected to grow cotton or rice for what they'd pay a Chinese or an Indian farmer to grow cotton in their countries, could they? That ain't American. So we pay for the canal and for half the crop. Same for rice, only rice takes more water. And then there's your ranchers. Everybody knows the cowboys are true-blue red-blooded Americans. Just look at their hats. So whenever they have a drought -- or staff says there might be a drought coming -- your taxpayer pays your rancher something for the grass that didn't grow.

"Like I said, those pork barrels surpass human understanding because they involve tribal religious issues. But here in this congressional district, they dreamed up one helluva pork barrel, mebbe the best pork barrel ever invented -- a public, tax paid university campus and a nuclear research lab, so mebbe some day soon you boys will be playing Nintendo on nuclear energy.

"See, it's better than a dam because it's new technology. A dam just produces energy from water making a turbine spin and everybody knows how to do it now. Nuclear energy is better because it's new technology."

"Why is new technology better?" asked the dull-witted boy.

"Because when you get new technology you get more staff and a longer gravy train and that's what your politicians and your business leaders call Real Good," the old brakeman said. "See, when nobody knows how to use a new technology and it could be dangerous, your staff gets bigger and your gravy train gets longer.

"Why?" Hector asked.

"In words you might understand, son, 'just because,'" the brakeman said. "The other thing is the project gets so big and expensive nobody can calculate how much tax money is going to go into it. Then you have to hire on more and more staff to contain costs.

"Then you got your locals standing around the pork barrel watching it boil, bubble, sprout and grow," hecontinued. "Your locals come in two varieties.

"In a pork barrel like this, the people who support it are called Leadership and the people who ask questions about it are usually called Environmentalists. Your leadership is Real Good because they got Faith and your environmentalists are called dog doo because they have Doubts."

"I don't get it and I gotta go to the bathroom," Hector said.

"Third willow on the right," the brakeman said, pointing to bushes plastered with pieces of paper beside a fence. Hector departed the conversation to answer the call of nature.

"That's a real smart little kid," the brakeman said. "Always glad to meet a youngster interested in the railroad. It's getting so that young people don't learn about railroads anymore."

The dull-witted boy agreed that Hector was an intelligent boy.

"Got a sense of history, that kid," said thebrakeman. "You can't teach that anymore. It's illegal these days, I think."

"Mister, do you know who are those people in that car up front staring out the window at Little Hector taking a pee?"

The brakeman squinted at the car for a moment, then said, "That's just another urban planner car. I think they said there were more than 300 urban planner cars on this gravy train."

"What do urban planners do?" the dull-witted boy wanted to know.

"It's like I'm trying to tell you," the brakeman said. "They're just staff. It don't matter what they do or if they do anything at all. What matters is they are staff and they show up. Urban planner staff are the ones that stand up in front of your elected officials and give your power point presentations of boxes and arrows and especially of maps: subdivision maps, annexation maps, specific plan maps, urban development plan maps, spheres of influence maps and the like. Your power point presentation is one of the strongest ingredients of your bullshit, see?

"You look at that thing and it looks just like a train, any old train," he continued. "But, Bud, that train has mystical powers: a genuine gravy train can stop most human thought for 50 miles either side of the track it sits on."

"Why?" the dull-witted boy asked.

"Because people go mad when they get near it. See, son, they just gotta get on it! This derailment was caused by the last lawyer in the state that wasn't invited to the party. They say he was so upset he drove his car right into this here gravy train in the hope somehow he'd get in on the deal. All he achieved was a few hours of posthumous fame and got me a little overtime," the brakeman said, chuckling.

Now the car he drove into was one, just one of a dozen cars packed with lawyers on the UC Gravy Train. Those are special cars. They got "On Retainer" written on their cars."

Little Hector returned from the willow bush.

"Better zip up, kid," the brakeman said, "you're exciting the secretaries."

Hector, a fastidious second grader, blushed, turned around and zipped up.

"See, boys, your real gravy train -- like this UC gravy train -- just goes on and on," the old man continued. "Right now, even as they're sweeping off the mortal remains of that unpopular lawyer, they're putting on 15 more cars full of land speculators at the other end -- right next to the plutonium cars full of nuclear weapons researchers -- your 'academic component.'"

"What's that?" Hector asked.

"Well, this is a UC gravy train, so a university campus is involved," the brakeman explained. "You have a university, you got to have your faculty and you have to have something for them to do -- that's your academic component. Don't get me wrong, it's just one part of it and not a very large part of it, unless it blows up, of course.

"The biggest part is your development community that's going to build houses around the nuclear research laboratory. Some people like to live near plutonium, I'm told. Personally, I prefer sagebrush, roadrunners and coyotes when I can get them. But that would be your water problem which, like I said before is an issue of tribal religions too deep for you or me."

"But, what do staff do?" the dull-witted boy asked, trying to get the old man focused on the original question, just once.

"Well, you see how all these cars are connected?"

"Yeah, just like on a regular passenger train."

"You got it," the old man beamed. "They've got people in there, the conductors say, that do nothing but go back and forth talking to each other. A little known fact about gravy trains is that no one ever gets off them unless they get pushed because they're afraid that if they get off them, they'll never be able to get back on. So, to keep their places, they have to constantly talk to each other. The conductors say this is what staff calls 'staying on the same page.' There's only one thing that can get a staffer upset -- he's got his salary, his benefits and his position on the car -- but if he's even once accused of not 'staying on the same page' with all the other staffers, your staffer is gonna have a panic attack because he knows what's next. That would be when they push him off the train."

"I don't understand what 'staying on the same page' means," Hector said.

"Well, the conductors tell me it means that everybody constantly has to be talking to each other to make sure nobody gets any ideas of their own or even looks out the window much."

"So, what do they actually do?" the dull-witted boy asked, again.

"I tole you twice," the old man said. "They run back and forth between all those thousands of cars agreeing with each other for fear if they don't, somebody will push them off. When everyone is in full agreement -- they call that 'consensus' -- somebody writes up a memo and makes a diagram with boxes and arrows on it and they make a power point presentation out of it to put on their computers and then they show it to each other."

"It sounds sort of stupid," Hector said.

"Hush, boy. There is one thing you cannot say about people on the UC Gravy Train and you just said it. You can't say it because every one of them but the secretaries has not only one but two or more degrees from universities, and their studies were mostly subsidized by taxpayers.

"Now UC has its tribe of lobbyists too, just like the highway and the water people and the farmers and ranchers," the old brakeman said. "They all dress in simple robes of blue and gold. They look like monks. There are hundreds of them, each with a begging bowl, swarming over your seats of government. I ain't saying educational funding is any less mysterious than highway money but the approach is different. There's a holiness about educational funds that's lacking in highway deals. I actually feel sorry for the politicians when they get in the clutches of the Holy Order of Higher Education Lobbyists promising salvation and better school grades in their districts.

"But back to your highly educated staff," he said. "Every one of them studied Gravytrainology and each and ever' one knows deep in his heart, mind and marrow that anyone who isn't on that UC gravy train is dumb as a post -- like all the taxpayers that paid for their campuses and their professors. Once again, it comes from learning in school how to stay on the same page by talking to people like themselves and nobody else. They ain't like you and me, just friendly strangers sitting by the side of the tracks talking till the train clears. At your departments of gravytrainology in institutions of higher learning, the first thing they teach you is who to talk to and who not to talk to. That's the secret of professional success and the fundamental premise of gravytrainology."

Just then a huge rumbling and crashing split the air like the biggest thunderclap in the universe. Both the boys jumped a foot off the ground.

"No need for worry, boys," the old brakeman yelled, "That's the sound of a gravy train starting up again."

"Where's it headed if the project is here?" the dull-witted boy screamed. "Why aren't they getting off?"

"Kid, you're not as bright as you look," the brakeman bellowed. "I tole you: nobody gets off unless they get pushed off. In a pork barrel project like this UC Merced, the last place a staffer wants to end up is in the barrel, on the ground, at the project. You want to be ON the gravy train, not UNDER the bottom of the pork barrel."

"Why?" Hector asked.

"Because then that staffer ain't going to be talking to other staffers. He's gonna have to talk to the public, the people who live here where they're gonna build this radioactive pork barrel with a college attached to it. Now the staffers don't know the public don't know much about the project. The reason they don't know that is because that ain't their department. That's your public relations department, also known as the Mothers of the Power Point Presentation.

"Like I say, the staffer only really knows one thing: he's got to stay on the same page with all the other staffers. But they think the public knows all about the project. And since the public can't be on the same page with all the staffers because the staffers ain't dumb enough to share the page with the public, they figure the public is mad."

"Why don't they share the page with the public?" asked the dull-witted boy.

"You don't get to see the page until you get on the gravy train," the old man explained.

"Well, how do you get to see it?" Hector asked.

"That would be your 'emerging community leader' deal, which is a multi-step deal. Your first step would be to start parading around your town calling yourself an emerging leader. That's a wannabe leader. Then you borrow some computer time from your boss and look up 'emerging leader' on the Internet and get connected with the People Who Can Help You, that's a non-profit foundation that gets its money from people who build huge factories and want to save what they call signature landscapes and quaint rural people. The step after that is buying a lot of clothes that make you look like you really don't come from your town -- Ceres, Livingston, Red Top, Fowler, Goshen, Orosi, Buttonwillow, Arbuckle, Gridley, Williams, Lamont, Strathmore, Clements, Milton, Hilmar, Denair, El Nido -- places like that. Then you gotta quit sounding like you come from places like that. When you're really almost ready for the Interview, you gotta quit thinking like you came from places like that. Finally, if you're lucky, you get a call which would lead you to the Interview. So then you would go up to Modesto to meet the Rich Ladies, aka The People Who Can Help You. If the Rich Ladies decide you really, really don't look or think like your neighbors anymore, they'll give you a peek at one little corner of the page -- something so old it's been released to the public -- and ask you if you can get on it. Now, there's three ways you can make it. You can talk your way in, you can write your way in, but the best way is to make some charts, graphs -- they love numbers -- put a bunch of boxes and arrows around them, and maybe you'll make it."

"Make what?" the dull-witted boy said.

"Make it on the UC Gravy Train, stupid," Little Hector said.

"OK," the dull-witted boy said, "but what's all this paper littering the tracks and everything?"

"That's different from your page," the brakemansaid. "This is your flak. There's cars and cars up there full of writers that do nothing but write flak. Then they got other staff people to print it. When they print it they chuck out the door into the world. It's part of the reason people go mad for 50 miles around a gravy train.

"See this one here," the brakeman said, picking up one of the sheets of paper.

"'Chancellor Tests First UC Merced Building.'

"Hmmm," he read on. It seems that 25 of the state's finest civil engineers designed a 'non-chemicalized, totally self-contained personal sanitary depository of wood in a style sensitive to prevalent local aesthetic design standards, including a moon-shaped window.' Then they hired a construction company out of Orange County to build it. Prominent university, local, state and federal officials did a tour and the chancellor was given the honor of being the first person to test it."

"What is it?" Hector wanted to know.

"Boys, this is good flak," the old brakeman said. "The essence of good flack is that it leaves you with important questions, like 'what is it?' Real Good Flak -- and the UC Gravy Train has the finest flak staff tax money can buy -- is kinda like the old-time Chinese Buddhists. What they say all points to what they haven't said. Real deep and mystical.

"Now in the case of this latest flack release now littering the entire Central Valley, what you got is the announcement of the completion of an outhouse on a cow pasture. It has to be an outhouse because they don't have any sewer lines. It can't be a chemical outhouse because the environmentalists would get after them for pollution. Now the chancellor of these cow pastures which the pork barrel, the gravy train and the staff are going to transform into a university, and the high officials apparently went out to this outhouse. Then, if I am translating the flack accurately, the chancellor went in the outhouse and used it. It doesn't mention if other high officials also used it. However, it does say that when she emerged from the outhouse, there was a 'warm round of applause.' Good flak always has a happy ending."

The three of them stood beside the tracks and watched endless cars full of offices lurch slowly past them.

"Where'd you say it was going again?" the dull-witted boy asked.

"Where it goes, nobody knows, kid," the brakeman said. "It just keeps going until the money runs out."

As if to confirm the wisdom of the ancient brakeman, a window opened in the office car inching through the intersection and a young man, kicking and screaming, his hands desperately grasping at the window casing, was being slowly ejected from the opening by a crowd of men and women insistently pushing and pushing until, finally, he fell to the gravel bed of the railroad tracks below.

The young man, scratched and bleeding, immediately leapt to his feet and began pounding his fists against the slowly moving office car, imploring his former office mates to let him back in.

"For God' sake, it was just a simple observation," he cried. "You can't be serious! Let me back in immediately. I have a masters degree from UCLA. I didn't write it down. I didn't do any analysis on it. IT WAS JUST A SLIP OF THE TONGUE."

His former office mates closed the window and drew the curtains.

As his office inched away, he hobbled along beside it, pounding it, crying out in despair until it was clear he could expect no pity from those within. He was off the UC Gravy Train.

The kindly old brakeman led him away from the train, fearing he might throw himself under its wheels, something similarly ejected staff had done before, causing a time-consuming mess for railroad employees when they did. The old man brushed off the fellow's khakis and pressed blue oxford shirt and picked up his briefcase for him, saying, "There, there, the world ain't come to an end. There's more than one gravy train come along these tracks. Just you wait. Life ain't over," and soothing things in this vein.

But the young man was hysterical.

"I am a certified traffic consultant," he stated wildly. "Certified, I say. I have advanced academic degrees and certification. I am a professional."

"I can see that myself," the old brakeman said. "You look every inch the professional traffic consultant. If I saw you in a crowded Starbucks, I'd say: 'By Golly, that man is a professional, certified traffic consultant.'"

"That's right, I am," said the gravy-train reject. "I want that clearly understood."

"It is perfectly clear," the brakeman said. "No arguments here, right boys?"

The dull-witted boy and Hector shook their heads.

"Well, why did they do this foul, unjust thing to you?" the brakeman asked. "It was just a casual, totally unquantified observation based on anecdotal information," the consultant said.

"About what?" Hector asked.

"All I said, and absolutely all I said -- and just to my secretary, that bitch Irene -- who blurted it to my supervisor because ... well, I won't go into the social habits of the people in that office. Beasts, absolute beasts. But all I said was that since the UC Gravy Train had derailed, it was blocking every intersection in Merced and streets in every city from here to Sacramento. Judging from the line of cars of people trying to get to work this morning at this one intersection, I said I would have to call the LOS -- that's the Level of Service for you lay persons -- unacceptable this morning. Then I said something about Merced City not having been able to afford to have more than one overpass on one of its two sets of railroad tracks in town, and no underpasses. Then I wondered -- out loud, in front of Irene, what a fool I was --if this might pose a problem we could look into.

"It was meant as a kind of joke, don't you see?" he whined. "It wasn't serious! I mean who cares about traffic congestion in Merced or anywhere else along the route of the gravy train. Certainly not UC. We're building roads around Merced. I personally have -- had -- total control of the planning for six feet of that beltway. Did I say that I have a masters degree and am a certified traffic planning consultant?"

"Yes, yes, you mentioned that several times," the old brakeman said gently. "Please go on."

"Every certified traffic consultant on the UC Gravy Train at the moment is totally focused on the traffic congestion for Phase 1 of its project -- that's the part that won't impact anything except the golfers who lost their municipal course. Forget the rest! Forget the other phases, the new town, the nuclear lab and all the development around it. That's what I said: Forget it! Forget it! Forget it!

"But they wouldn't and they pushed me out and that Irene was right in there with the rest of them, laughing as she did it. The last one we pushed out was at night when the train was doing about 40 miles an hour. He screamed when he landed. I think he died or something."

Suddenly, the rejected consultant sobbed, grabbed his briefcase and dashed up the tracks to begin his fruitless pounding on the sides of his former office car on the UC Gravy Train.

"Boys, that's the saddest part of the gravy-train business you're looking at," the old man said. "You might wonder how come I know so much about what goes on inside those offices. It's from dusting off young fellows like that one, the rejects you find wandering along the tracks, mumbling to themselves, crazy as loons. Sometimes you can see their camp fires at night in the old jungles where the fruit tramps used to gather. They all got a tale to tell about their part of the project and they all tell the same tale: once you're off the UC Gravy Train, they never let you back on it."

The old man paused and scratched his head, trying to remember something. "Oh yeah, I should tell you this. I hate to mention it -- it ain't sad, it's just mean -- but if them little backpacks of yours contain any paint cans, don't do it on this train. Personally, I have enjoyed the peoples' art ever since it started, but if you're artists, consider another canvas. They got a private crew of graffiti dicks, all former Texas Rangers, that have zero tolerance for taggers. I mean zero and I seen the bodies to prove it. They'll track a tagger all the way to Utah and do him in and age is no consideration. Younger the better, is their motto. Each one of them has a special authorization letter from very high officials to enforce this no-tolerance policy. UC definitely don't like anybody defacing its Gravy Train."

Little Hector said, "I never."

"Me neither," said the dull-witted boy.

"Good," the old brakeman said.

"Tell us about some of the other cars," the dull-witted boy said.

"That's a tall order, boy, and we'd be here for months if I told you about all the cars on the UC Gravy Train.

"There's your Governor's car and your Legislature cars. There's specially made out of bullet-proof, foot-thick black glass. Nobody can see in. Nobody can see out. They're blocked at each end and nobody can get in or out either.

"But the fanciest cars are for the high UC officials," he continued. "The paint on those cars is so clean and shiny it blinds the eyes. Hundreds of little businessmen, all dressed in blue suits with gold ties are constantly washing and polishing the UC officials' cars. You can't see inside those cars because they have thick, brocade curtains of blue and gold. The businessmen who clean the cars say the thread in these curtains is made of pure gold. Every once in awhile one of the high officials opens the window to give an official address. Official UC addresses are done by the official dangling his or her backside out the window and permitting the businessmen and prominent local officials to kiss it.

"Down the line you might see more than a hundred cars with fly-specked little windows. That would be your secretarial pool cars. You'll see women answering telephones behind the little windows. They all say the same thing to whoever is calling. The message is: 'whoever you're calling is out of the office.' That's an essential component of a gravy train and staff."

"Why?" Hector wanted to know.

"Well, your key difference between staff and ordinary people is that staff has secretaries to tell anyone trying to call that staff is out of the office. Otherwise you wouldn't be staff. Get it?"

"No," Hector said.

"Well, you're young yet," the old brakeman said. "You see those plumes of smoke up ahead, looks like burning rice fields?"

"Yeah," the dull-witted boy said.

"That's your public records cars. See, to get back to the beginning, your pork barrel, because it's a public project using tax money, has to comply with all local, state and federal regulations. That means about half the staff on the gravy train are constantly writing reports on the development of the pork barrel so the public will know what's going on. Get it?"

"Oh."

"But since your leadership don't want the public to know anything about the pork barrel except flak, as soon as those staff reports are written and read by leadership, they run them over to the incinerators in your public records cars before the environmentalists get hold of them. Get it?"

The dull-witted boy bit a finger nail and said nothing.

"I know it takes awhile," the old brakeman said. "But all the public records don't get burned up because copies of them go to place like the natural resource agency cars. Now these cars look kinda like old-time Pullman cars, a little worse for wear. The blue and gold paint is chipped and you can see the old Pullman green underneath it. That's because there's more money in pork barrels than there are in resource agencies. And there's only a handful of people in each car. But you can't see these people because the windows are blocked by signs. Each sign is just one big letter. Put all the letters together and they spell, 'Sue us, please!'

"Then you got your punishment cars," he continued. "There done in an Old West motif, real graphic and meant to show the public what can happen if anybody asks any dumb questions and does anything that displeased any powerful person on the gravy train.

"You got a few emaciated journalists prowling around open cages begging food from passers-by. Then they've got a former congressman tacked up to a cross with real nails. Then they've got the skin of a baby black bear tacked up for some reason, right over the hide of the guy who shot it, making a charming Western tableau. Then they've got their wanted posters -- mainly pictures of vernal pools. They've got see-through padded cells for consulting biologists who went nuts trying to prove they could build the project without threatening endangered species.

"Then you have your road-kill panels," he continued grimly. "Oh, yes. Car after car fitted out with tall, white walls on which they tack up dead squirrels, skunks, coyotes, mice, dogs, cats and whoever else they can scrape off the roads. If you look at this project from a raptor's point of view, it looks like Sherman's march to the sea, burning crops all the way or maybe what the Spanish did in Peru when they burned all the amaranth.

"Next to the flak cars, you find your newspaper cars," the old brakeman explained. "The newspaper cars are connected to the flak cars by fax machines. In the beginning of the gravy train you could still see through the windows into the newspaper cars but that hasn't been true for a year because fax flak has filled the newspaper cars entirely. Sometimes, if the train is stalled and you're near a newspaper car you can still see movement inside. Sometimes the paper seems to move about and you can imagine there are editors within but you never see them anymore and they sure as hell can't see you. Every once in awhile some editor gets so burned out, his frying mind sets fire to the fax flak and one more local newspaper uncouples from the line.

"Next to the newspaper cars, you have your dog-and-pony cars. They're set up like theater stages, complete with adoring audiences of reporters and local leaders hanging on every bark and whinny. One stopped near where I was working on the track for several hours. It drew a crowd because people are naturally curious when they see dogs and ponies dressed up like college professors.

"So, we're all standing there watching the dogs bark, the ponies whinny, the local leaders acting like they understand every word and asking important questions about growth and prosperity and the reporters scribbling away in their notebooks. But, boys, none of us out here on the track could speak either dog or pony so we couldn't make head nor tails out of it.

"My personal favorite car on the UC Gravy Train is a special glassed-in car full of naked lawyers who were too stupid and corrupt to be of any use on the project. They don't feed them anything so every couple of days or so they hold a trial, convict one of their mates and eat him. It's something to see."

"Then, of course, you got your boosters -- confetti and pompom girls. A lot of those cars are filled with school kids and your ethnic minority groups. No gravy train can do without your smiling children and your smiling, grateful minority people -- just glad to be here in the US improving themselves through education. They tend to work on your politicians' hearts and minds. Who ain't gonna vote for more tax money for a university in their region after your school children and your minority leaders have come to them begging for the chance to be Real Successful Americans like that traffic consultant and telling you that if you don't vote for that campus and the nuclear research lab in your backyard you're just condemning those people to ignorance and privation.

"Then you got your school teachers and your school administrators cars," he continued. "These look like floats at the homecoming parade. They are alters made of wire and blue and gold paper napkins. It ain't Christian exactly because they're worshiping a Golden Bobcat, a creature that does not occur in nature but which they highly exalt anyway. They kneel all around it and pray 24/7.

"The UC Gravy Train goes on and on," the old brakeman said. "You got your developer cars and your land speculator cars. The only way you can tell the difference is your developer cars have little slit windows about an inch thick that double as rifle ports. Land speculators don't have any windows at all.

"Boys, you see that boxcar coming up?"

"Yep," the dull-witted boy said.

"Well that's my car and I'd better hop it or I won't get any lunch. See you later."

With that the spry old brakeman disappeared in the open door of the boxcar.

The boys were hoping to see the cannibal-lawyers cage but gave up after a couple of hours and went home.

 

 

 

 

 

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