Law

Racetrack promotion meets reality on narrow country roads

Submitted: Dec 08, 2006

The Riverside Motorsports Park/Merced County government pitch for a world-class motor sports facility met a political pitchfork from the nation’s second-largest dairy county on Dec. 5, at the county Board of Supervisors public comment period.

In a short, prepared address concluding the comment period, board Chairman Mike Nelson abused a privileged moment by attacking the public. Nelson’s pitch was that the “leadership of the opposition to the racetrack” had a right to its opinion, but RMP also had a right to its opinion.

In fact, RMP’s position is clearly stated in the environmental review process. The purpose of the environmental review process is to get everybody else’s concerns about a project, not just its proponent’s opinions.

This opponent leadership is always “the same people,” Nelson told the public.

In fact, public opposition to this project is growing by the day as it finds out more about the project and its flaws.

Nelson said, “these same people” time and time again, “try to CEQA projects to death.” They don’t like any projects, he said. In Nelson’s opinion, these leaders of the opponents to the RMP are just a bunch a “NIMBYs.”

“Rarely do we hear any alternatives or mitigation measures proposed” by the leaders of the opponents, he said. “But these people don’t speak for the public,” he said, alleging that a poll taken in Atwater showed a majority of its citizens in favor of the track, located at a site adjoining Atwater.

Members of the audience asked Nelson if they could discuss his claims with him.

“No,” Nelson said, gaveling an end to the morning session, prolonged by almost two hours of 5-minute public comments, a time limit rigidly enforced by Nelson.

To say that the opposition is being led by anybody is a factually challenged statement, but characteristic of the Merced County government, entitled as always to its opinion.

Members of the public against the project weren’t stating opinions but were giving their best analysis of basic, drastic facts. The newest angle on the traffic problem came from dairy families and a custom farmer in the district where, RMP traffic consultants anticipate, possibly four days a week, narrow country roads will be jammed with the cars of concert and race spectators. This will interfere with tight harvest and post-harvest handling schedules, particularly in corn, most of which is harvested about the same time. The possibility of traffic jams interfering with harvest schedules quickly turns to the quantity and quality of dairy feed. Presently, dairies are into months of production below cost, which heightens dairymen’s concerns about all costs, and the quantity and quality of their feed. Jamming narrow country roads with out-of-town auto-racing spectators is a threat to the whole region’s agricultural system, which needs those roads for dairy trucks, tractors, harvesting equipment and feed trucks. And that threat doesn’t include the issue of delayed emergency services, which already take a half an hour.

Farmers and ranchers have had to comply with ever-changing environmental regulations on the parts of their operations that pollute air and water. They look at the RMP environmental impact report and see 34 “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts,” and say if regulation is good for agriculture, it is also good for the motor sports industry, at least in Merced, one of the nation’s premiere agricultural counties.

One dairyman said that if it took six years to get the project right, he urged the board to take the six years if necessary. In fact, farming operations have had to wait as long as six years to get environmental compliance. He added that the board will regain the trust of its constituents by taking the time to do it right, rather than losing the trust of the people doing it the way they are doing it.

You might be able to get away with saying, “So-and-so is an eminent leader, and has long been widely recognized in his business domain.” But if you put those two words side-by-side and speak the term, eminent domain, people become justifiably alarmed. Why the secrecy? That should have been part in the environmental review process. Why was this possibility on certain old, narrow country roads only made known to the public after the public hearing on the environmental review was closed?

Nelson ended his prepared address by noting correctly that none of the testimony at Supervisor Diedre Kelsey’s town hall meetings had any legal force because the public hearing on the RMP environmental review has been closed. In reply to a question on that point at her Delhi town hall meeting, Kelsey said that she could gather new information and inform the supervisors in their discussion of the issue when it comes up for a vote. However, important new information that came out of the meetings from county staff, not from the public.

Everything about this project has the appearance of underhanded dealing for the benefit of special interests. In one commission of bureaucratic slight-of-hand, there will be two votes on the zoning changes and the General Plan amendment necessary to approve the EIR, one expressing “intent” to approve on Dec. 12, the other to approve, on Dec. 19. In another act of tricky dealing, the board will take a crucial vote on the Castle airport noise zone on Dec. 12, without which the RMP project cannot move forward. Some members of the public have already publicly argued for the administrative record in the public hearing that the Castle airport must be a part of the RMP environmental review. Dealing with it the way it is doing, the County is fragmenting and piecemealing the environmental review process.

Experienced observers of Merced County government notice that this sort of bureaucratic trickery reinforces the public opinion that this government is either incompetent, corrupt or both. The learned “experts” on the staff arise and “explain” to the public their ridiculous bureaucratic shenanigans as if they were the latest thing in good planning.

Meanwhile, in the backroom, a select group of representatives of broad-based public organizations receive doses of political cynicism and political impotence from supervisors. It all boils down to the same message: “We are the government. You are the public. We work for special interests. We and special interests win. The public and the Public Trust lose.”

Yet another act of bureaucratic trickery is the indemnification agreement between the County and RMP, which commits RMP to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits the public might bring against the project. In response to a public request to view the indemnification agreement, the County produced an agreement, signed by RMP but unsigned by the County. Approval of the RMP indemnification agreement is on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for Dec. 12.

The Castle airport issue is another bureaucratic hinky wrinkle in the public process. The last we heard, it needed a 4-1 vote to pass. Without it, the RMP project is stopped. It is an intrinsic part of the RMP project that is not considered in the RMP environmental review. Will Kelsey, the hero de jour, stand up for proper public process and vote against it? Will she get another vote against it?

With one stunning exception, important new information has not come from the public from the town hall meetings in either Ballico, Delhi, Winton or the Merced River Corridor. The new information, mainly about anticipated traffic patterns and the eminent domain problem, came from county staff at the town hall meetings. However, the claim by opponents of the project that neither county staff nor project consultants had considered the number of schools located on those narrow country roads is genuinely new, important information concerning the health and safety of children, apart from the broader issue of increased air pollution.

So, where does that leave the public, which Nelson says the opponents of the project cannot speak for, and the project? The California Environmental Quality Act is state law and lays out a procedure for making and voting on EIRs. That procedure includes a public hearing period. The board held one public hearing two weeks ago. Nelson is right: the town hall meetings and the Dec. 5 public-comment period testimony don’t matter for the purposes of CEQA..

It’s clear that public debate is opening up new questions and new information. Yet the public hearing under CEQA is closed. There is an adequate amount of factual information in the official record for the supervisors to reopen the public hearing.

“Time plus integrity produces answers,” one member of the public told the supervisors.

Nelson appeared to be running a campaign for himself rather than chairing a county board of supervisors on a serious issue about a project whose environmental and economic studies are very far from adequate to describe its impacts. Yet, he speaks for the board, identifying a conspiracy of environmental radicals behind every member of the public getting up to express her or his anxiety and anger about the RMP project.

The apparent critic of the project on the board, Kelsey, may be providing toothless forums in her districts for people with serious concerns about RMP impacts, but she is hardly a leader of opposition to the project. If she were, she would not be publicly claiming whenever and wherever possible that she hasn’t made her mind up how she will vote. And she would have moved to keep the public hearing open before it was closed. In fact, the public needs to be very careful about Kelsey, because what we might be seeing here is merely political rivalry between two Republicans seeking higher office jerking around public concerns.

One member of the public chastised Nelson for being rude to a previous speaker. Nelson replied coldly that his comment had been noted.

Where were the other supervisors today? Why weren’t they stepping up and defending the public process? Where is Congressman Cardoza or his staff, state Sen. Jeff Denham or Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani or Matthews or their staffs? The public process by which these massive, environmentally destructive development projects are rubber-stamped in Merced County is broken. It needs the defense of elected officials. It does not need their continual offense.

And, speaking of giving offense to the public process, we include Chairman Nelson’s concluding remarks:

There have been many well meaning, well intentioned leaders of the opposition to the RMP project. I’ve talked to many of them. While we always don’t agree on things (sic) , I have been open to suggestions that they have made. But, just as they have a right to their opinions, the project proponents have a right to their opinions as well.

In my four years on this board, many projects have been proposed. Opponents of this project are many of the same faces we have seen time and time again – those who continually attempt to CEQA projects to death.

You know, CEQA was meant to identify and address environmental concerns. This has been done. The problem appears to me, however, that members of the opposition just don’t like the answers.

I continually hear, “We’re not against racing but the location is wrong,” in essence, “Not In My Back Yard!”

Well, the same can be said for a host of other projects: UC Merced, the UC Community, various housing projects. The list goes on and on.

Rarely do we hear alternatives or mitigations being proposed, other than, “Don’t build it!”

I also keep hearing that many opponents in this audience speak for “the public.”

This is simply not true, at least in District 3.

There was a survey taken back this past spring. Sixty percent of those surveyed were in favor of the project.

The recent call for town hall meetings may be appropriate, however, only with the understanding that public hearings have already been closed on this matter. And, I might point out that there have been many opportunities provided the public to find out about this project.

Next week’s meeting will be a challenge, no doubt. I just hope that the opponents will consider that their opinions are not the only ones that matter.

Thank you.

With that, we’re adjourned for lunch.
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To which, some members of the public reply:

· Nelson and the other supervisors refused to meet with members of the public opposed to the RMP project before the close of the public hearing. Afterwards, town hall meetings were held and supervisors met with known opponents. So what?

· Members of the audience were in many instances not offering opinions but responsible estimates (far more realistic and better informed than the project environmental traffic analysis), based on intimate experience with the transportation system, schools and agricultural schedule of the Delhi-Amsterdam-Winton-Merced River Corridor area. People who made written and oral comments to the RMP environmental review used facts, not opinions, to make their arguments.

· Most of the Merced public has not been involved in any CEQA arguments about development projects in Merced County. There are many new faces among the opponents to the RMP project. (Mr. Nelson is beginning his old rightwing war whoop here -- environmentalist-bashing.)

· An environmental review that leaves 34 environmental impacts “significant and unavoidable” glances at environmental issues; it does not address them.

· To the charge of “Not In My Back Yard,” or “NIMBYism,” one must reply: You bet we are trying to defend our backyard against the corrupt influence of special interests on you and the board. That corrupt influence is ruinous to our air and water quality, our road system, our agricultural operations and our natural resources. It is also dangerous to children.

· CEQA does not require the public to do analysis, mitigation, be experts, or offer alternatives.

· The 60-percent of Atwater residents Nelson alleges were in favor of the RMP project weren’t informed in the survey that the County would invoke eminent domain to widen country roads into Atwater to facilitate traffic from Delhi. They weren’t informed that there was no traffic study. They weren’t informed of the number of schools on those routes. They weren’t asked for their approval of the project despite the disruption it would cause normal agricultural operations in the area. The survey wasn’t included in the RMP environmental review. Who wrote the survey and who conducted it?

· The public has been and is standing, and will stand before the board on this project, the next project, and “on and on.”

· They do have legal standing to bring suits on behalf of the public for County noncompliance with environmental law. Most of the people who submitted written and oral testimony during this meeting, town hall meetings and public hearings on this project, represent themselves, their neighbors and their groups. Most of them could prove harm and adverse impacts from this project within the meaning of a number of environmental statutes and regulations. The same is true for regulatory agencies and staff.

· Mr. Chairman, you may be so narrowly focused on special interests that you cannot listen to public concerns that differ from your views. In lieu of so much as a peep out of them, the public assumes you speak for the rest of the supervisors as well, including Kelsey sitting on her fence. No supervisor objected to your offensive oration after the public spent two hours trying to explain, with facts, the major problems with a motorsports park at that location. No supervisor intervened to protect members of the public from your rudeness and unprofessional conduct during the public comment period. You are the politically incompetent chairman of a politically incompetent board and the Merced public is finding your individual and collective incompetence unacceptable dangers to environmental public health and safety. You have broken public due process in this county.

· In the case of development projects, law, at the Merced County Board of Supervisors, boils down to one area: indemnification and hold harmless agreements that commit the developer to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits brought by the public against abuse of state and federal environmental laws and public process by the County, on behalf of those indemnifying the County. In Merced County, these agreements are being used routinely by local land-use authorities as licenses for environmentally and, in some instances, economically irresponsible land-use decisions. In general, indemnification is a formality because few members of the Merced public have the intestinal fortitude to endure a lawsuit (always accompanied by vilification from public officials, staff and local businessmen).

· You lectured the public who took time off from busy working schedules to come and sincerely tell you their concerns with this project. You use your privileged moment as an opportunity to give them an ideological whipping. You expect us to tolerate political thuggery.

· Mr. Chairman, you are a bully. You are bringing all the contempt for the public in the backroom – from the Planning Department, County Counsel, special interest consultants, supervisors, the offices of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, adjoining your offices – into the board chambers in public session. But the public – concerned, thoughtful, factual – won’t go away just because you choose to trample on the laws and regulations of public process and call the public politically dirty names. The public won’t disappear just because a set of county supervisors chooses to ignore it. The offices you hold and the local land-use authority you have won’t disappear just because you abuse the authority of your office on behalf of special interests rather than in the public interest.

Badlands editorial staff

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Grand Jury may investigate mysterious Livingston pipeline

Submitted: Dec 03, 2006

Supervisor John Pedrozo disagrees. The county took action by prohibiting more work without filing the proper paperwork, he said. "If someone wants someone to file a grand jury investigation, more power to them" Pedrozo said. "The county has done everything we've been asked to do." Merced Sun-Star, Dec. 1, 2006
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12-1-06
Merced Sun-Star
Grand jury looking into Livingston pipe...Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13069658p-13722975c.html
A sewer line installed by Ranchwood Homes earlier this year and challenged by environmental advocates could be the focus of a civil grand jury investigation, the foreman said. Adrian Vanderzyde, who heads the Merced County civil grand jury, said the charges are directed at the city and county. "There are a lot of issues (in the complaint)," Vanderzyde said, "but primarily it's an issue between development and ag land." The 16 jurors will decide Thursday if they'll investigate the complaint, which is the only new one submitted at the moment, he said. The identity of the person who filed the Nov. 16 complaint is being kept confidential. The potential for an investigation was lauded by one environmentalist who fought the sewer line, while city and county officials first learned of the complaint Thursday. In February, three environmental groups tried to halt the installation of a mile-long, 42-inch sewer line because they said the necessary reviews and paperwork had not been filed...pipe will be used for a possible subdivision by Ranchwood Homes on 420 acres...attention prompted the county to stop work on the project in February until state-mandated environmental reviews are completed...nothing else has happened with the project. The three groups -- the San Joaquin Raptor Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and Planada Community Development Corp. -- said the city was wrong to allow the trenching because there was no environmental review and the land was out of their control... "We did not go beyond our boundary, and it was always in our legal right to do what we did," Assistant City Manager Vickie Lewis said. The project was a mile outside the city limit and fell within Livingston's influence... Bryant Owens, of the Planada Community Development Corp., said he was pleased to learn the grand jury may investigate and said the developer should be sanctioned for not doing any environmental reviews. "It seems to me that (owner Greg) Hostetler did everything to get it in the ground before it could be stopped,"... Supervisor John Pedrozo disagrees. The county took action by prohibiting more work without filing the proper paperwork, he said. "If someone wants someone to file a grand jury investigation, more power to them" Pedrozo said. "The county has done everything we've been asked to do."
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Supervisor Pedrozo's district has a skinny neck in one end of it. That pipeline runs right out of the Livingston sewer plant down that neck. Pedrozo held a dog-and-pony show with county and Livingston city staff and elected officials about the pipeline of Feb. 16, 2006. Prominent farmers not in on the deal, whose land lay in the path of the pipeline, were complaining. But Pedrozo shouted down people who told him that the pipeline was laid on county land and was county responsibility. The county issued a stop order on the project about the time of its completion. Big deal. County Counsel Ruben Castillo had somebody write a letter to Livingston outlining all the laws Livingston broke in "approving" the pipeline. Beyond issuing a stop order on the project around the day it was completed, the public is unaware of any other county "police action" taken to defend its land-use authority. It leads reasonable people to suppose a large bribe is being negotiated for the benefit of very few people.

Who is Robert Lewis, anyway, this gentleman from Las Vegas currently masquerading as a county planning director in Merced? Is he a competent California public servant, knowledgeable in state environmental law and regulation pertaining to development? Or is he the doorman for The Vegas-Merced Developer Casino? Whoever he is, he’s CEO Dee Tatum’s boy in planning.

These are the same guys about to bring you Riverside Motorsports Park, without the semblance of a credible traffic plan and without any public information about who the investors in the project are.

They have brought this county into a state of ill-repute. Government here has boiled down to a simple formula: who has what on whom? Sitting on top of this house of ill-repute is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Himself-Merced. But, Cardoza won't dirty his hands with "local affairs," except maybe to bring back $25-$30 million a year in pork from the next Farm Bill to his district.

We challenge the Grand Jury to have the guts and sense of civic responsibility to investigate the corruption behind this sewer line, which passes through a large acreage owned by Michael Gallo. He is developing a subdivision, Yosemite Lakes Estates, close to the UC Merced campus. A large contributor to Cardoza, Gallo is also planning larger subdivisions in Stevinson, toward which Hostetler's pipeline points but does not yet reach. If the authorities don't make Hostetler dig up the pipeline, it will be ready to serve and extend to Stevinson in the next growth boom.

The Grand Jury was so scared of CEO Tatum, they whitewashed a Planada land-deal bribery charge against him without a semblance of coherent explanation. Faced with Hostetler and Gallo in full cry, reasonable people could anticipate that the Grand Jury would be reduced to jibbering idiocy -- if they even muster the spirit to take the case. We challenge it to do better this time.

Government in this county has lost its sense of civic self-respect. Since UC Merced arrived, this county has been nothing but a developer-owned house of graft, good laws broken, and scandals concealed. But, the housing boom has busted for awhile. Maybe some truth will out.

Bill Hatch
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Badlandsjournal.com, Feb. 7, 2006

Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston

From:

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350
(209) 523-1391, ph. & fax

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550
(209) 769-0832

To:

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development
Merced County
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340

Jon LeVan
Local Agency Formation Commission
Merced County
2222 M Street 2nd Floor
Merced CA 95340

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

Brandon Friesen
Mayor
1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It has come to our attention that the City of Livingston has authorized a private developer to install a 42 -inch sewer main connecting a 300 acre parcel along Magnolia Avenue near Westside Blvd, in a portion of unincorporated Merced County adjacent to but outside the SUDP of the City of Livingston.

This is clearly a ‘project’ under CEQA, and must be halted immediately and the City of Livingston must be enjoined and required to follow all the appropriate protocols for environmental review of a project of this nature. In addition we request and require the County of Merced Planning and Economic Development Department to assert its land use jurisdiction in this matter.

It is our understanding that the installation of these municipal services is a prelude to annexation of this 300-acre parcel into the City of Livingston. As such the entire project is premature and represents a clear violation of LAFCo of Merced County’s jurisdiction and statutory authority with regard to out of boundary service extensions in Merced County.

The City of Livingston’s mistaken authorization of this project has allowed grading and deep ripping on agricultural land in violation of the County of Merced’s Williamson Act Zoning.

The particular parcel must be removed from the Agricultural Preserve according to a prescribed process adopted by the County Board of Supervisors in 2000. This has not been done.

The City of Livingston has acted irresponsibly and precipitously in authorizing non agricultural land uses on land not properly under its legal jurisdiction: Livingston may not act as lead agency with regard to any aspect of this ‘project’ without providing the appropriate Notice of Exemption to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, The EPA at the federal level, the County and the Local Agency Formation Commission. No evidence exists that any such notice of exemption has been filed with any of the aforementioned agencies. If such notice has been approved at any level of the City of Livingston City Council level, these commentators challenge the validity of such notice and ask that it be invalidated.

Proceeding in the aforementioned manner places the City Council of Livingston in violation of California Government Code 65402 requiring mandatory referral of such a proposal to the county LAFCo, and the county Department of Planning and Economic Development. This has not been done. If this project is to proceed correctly, given the total acreage involved, such project would definitely qualify as a ‘major expansion’ of an SUDP. Such a designation automatically triggers the need for CEQA review and an EIR is mandatory. The City of Livingston has previously attempted to annex agricultural land by designating it as blighted. This tactic was rebuked by the County of Merced and eventually rescinded by the City of Livingston.

There is no evidence of any negotiations between the County of Merced and the City of Livingston regarding tax and revenue sharing agreement, and consequently there have been no noticed public meetings to discuss those agreements, in violation of state law, local ordinance, and Merced county’s current General Plan. The county of Merced is currently in the preliminary stages of updating its General Plan. The City of Livingston has not yet filed even a notice of preparation for expanding its SUDP. The proposed project is therefore premature in that the context for approving such a major expansion does not yet exist for either jurisdiction. There is no notice of preparation on file with the county or the state reflecting any such intention on the part of the City of Livingston. We therefore request that this project be stopped until such time as the appropriate land use authority can be determined and that jurisdiction be asserted.

The commentators’ request, under the California Public Records Act, to inspect any indemnification agreements entered into by this developer, Mr. Hostetler and Co., and/ or any of his associates, specifically Mike Gallo and Co., ‘holding harmless’ the City of Livingston for any legal challenge to the environmental review of the proponent’s (s’) project. We also request to inspect any documents showing any other agreements between the two named parties and the City of Livingston. We also request to inspect any documents pertaining to any agreements between local business or industry (specifically Foster Farms) with regard to connection to the proposed waste water conduit into the city of Livingston.

To the best of our knowledge, a Ms. Donna McKinney, possibly a consultant with the firm PMC, is acting as the director of Planning for the City of Livingston. Who is paying her salary? To whom does she report?

Another matter of concern is the fact that authorizing this sort of activity outside of an existing SUDP is a violation of the Subdivision Map Act. According to the documentation that has been inspected to date it appears as though the developer has requested pre-zoning for parcels within this 300-acre site, to which the 42-inch sewer main is to connect. This seems to be several steps premature for an annexation request. When will the public have an opportunity to comment on any identified significant environmental effects?

We have grave concerns over the lack of information concerning who will be allowed to access this new infrastructure. Can the City of Livingston WWTF actually serve the anticipated urban expansion? What funding source exists for other necessary municipal services? How does this proposed project coordinate with regional water and wastewater needs? If a municipality in Merced county becomes incapable of serving the WWTF needs of its customers and fails, does the responsibility for those services revert to the county? Can the county afford to assume that sort of infrastructure liability?

Have there been any Can/Will Server letters of agreement between the Livingston WWTF and this developer? Is a Will Serve letter valid in the demonstrable absence of capacity?

Given that this developer has a plethora of residential development projects in Merced County and elsewhere, and considering the abject indiscretion of the City of Livingston in lending its ‘approval’ to this developer (especially since the approval lacked jurisdiction or authority) ,we request that all development projects by this developer throughout Merced County and especially anywhere proximate to the City of Livingston or the surrounding unincorporated communities be red-tagged (administratively halted) until such time as the environmental review of each of those current projects can be reviewed for accuracy and compliance with the appropriate laws, codes mitigation measures and appropriate checklists, and until the public is assured that each project is under the inspection and review of the appropriate agency.

This hubris on the part of the developer coupled with the abject irresponsibility of those agents of the City of Livingston demands commensurate sanctions by the appropriate governing bodies and/or state agencies. We request that those authorized to do so pursue such sanction to the fullest extent of the law.

We appreciate your consideration of this information and request to be notified in writing prior to deliberations and/or actions pertaining to this information by each of the notified agencies. Regarding inspection of the documents requested above, we reserve the right to inspect any documents identified subsequent to the above request, prior to any copies being made. We will give specific instructions as to which documents we need copies of when they have been identified and are available for inspection. It is our understanding that each agency notified in this document is responsible to respond to our request, within the statutory time frame with any identifiable documents described herein.

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- ChairmanPlanada Community Development Corporation

Cc: Interested Parties
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Badlandsjournal.com, Feb. 26, 2006

Merced County
Ruben E. Castillo
County Counsel

February 16, 2006

Thomas Hallinan, Jr., City Attorney
City of Livingston
Post Office Box 486
Oakdale, CA 95361
Fax: (209) 847-5515

Re: Sewer Line Trunk Extension

Dear Mr. Hallinan:

I hope you are well. I am taking the opportunity to write to you about a sewer line extension to a proposed future residential development. The extension was approved by the City of Livingston. Unfortunately, there were a number of deficiencies in the City’s approval, and I wanted to alert you to them as one public agency attorney to another.

As I understand the facts, Ranchwood Homes (“Ranchwood”) is extending a 42” pipeline from the waste water treatment facility in the City to the site of Ranchwood’s proposed future residential development. I also understand that Ranchwood is in the conceptual design phase for the development of a residential housing project located in the unincorporated area of the County, partially within and partially outside of the Sphere of Influence of the City. In order to provide future sewer service for the proposed Ranchwood development project, Ranchwood entered into an agreement with the City to design, construct, and dedicate a sewer trunk line from the City’s waste water treatment plant to the proposed project site. This agreement reflects a finding by the City that the project was categorically exempt from CEQA. The agreement was unanimously approved by the City Council on December 21, 2004, but a Notice of Exemption was apparently never filed.

As approved by the City, the project called for the construction of 5,115 lineal feet of trunk sewer line by Ranchwood. The new sewer line would be installed “between the intersection of Gallo Drive/Vinewood Drive easterly and southerly to Peach Avenue. However, as approved, the “entire length of sewer trunk line is outside the City limit line and Sphere of Influence.” The sewer line is “designed to convey future urban sanitary sewer flows from the City to the existing Wastewater Treatment Plant site.” However, “no part of this in-ground project will be connected to the City sewer system until future mixed-use development occurs.” [December 21, 2004, City Staff Report re: Ranchwood Sewer Trunk Line, emphasis added.]

Following approval by the City, Ranchwood acquired easements from private property owners and the County department of public works. The project proceeded and a “dry” sewer trunk line was installed all the way from the waste water treatment plant to just short of Magnolia. At the request of the County, further installation has been stopped, subject to an encroachment permit from the County and compliance with all applicable laws.

Given these facts, I thought it important to share with you our legal view concerning the project. It is the County’s reasoned opinion that the approval of this project by the City does not comport with the City’s jurisdictional authority. Furthermore, it appears to run afoul of the Cortese-Knox Local Government Reorganization Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and general land use and planning law. As County Counsel, I respectfully request that the City take every action to bring its approval of this project into compliance with these laws, including all appropriate environmental analysis, and I further request that the City communicate with and cooperate with the County to make certain this project is carried out in conformance with the law and the jurisdictional authority of each respective public agency.

1. The City had no Power to Approve a Project Outside its Territorial Limits.

As you know, the California Constitution at Article XI, section 7, confers on a city the power to “make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws.” Thus, “[u]nder the police power granted by the Constitution, counties and cities have plenary authority to govern, subject only to the limitation that they exercise this power within their territorial limits and subordinate to state law. (Cal. Const., art. XI, Section 7.) Apart from this limitation, the ‘police power [of a county or city] under this provision . . . is as broad as the police power exercisable by the Legislature itself.’ Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley (1976) 17 Ca. 3d 129, 140 [130 Cal. Rptr. 465, 550 P.2d 1001].” (Candid Enterprises, Inc. v. Grossmont Union High School Dist. (1942) 50 Cal App 2d 374, 122 P2d 965.)

A municipal corporation has generally no extraterritorial powers of regulation. It may not exercise its governmental functions beyond its corporate boundaries. (Von Schmidt v. Widber (1894) 105 Cal 151, 38 P 682; Mulville v. San Diego (1920) 183 Cal 734, 192 P 702; Oakland v. Brock (1937) 8 Cal 2d 639, 67 P2s 344.) The Constitution delegates directly to inferior governmental agencies the police power in their respective localities, provided only that its exercise by any city must be confined to such city. (People v. Taylor (1938) 33 Cal App 2d Supp 760.) A municipal ordinance can have no extraterritorial force unless by express permission of the sovereign power. (Ferran v. Palo Alto (1942) 50 Cal App 2d 374, 122 P2d 965.)

It is only when annexation occurs that the police power transfers from the County to the City. Police power has been given a county and a city, respectively, for exercise only “within its limits” and when land in suit was annexed to city it left territorial jurisdiction of county, ceased to be “within its limits,” and hence was no longer subject to provisions of county zoning ordinance classifying land as residential and limited to single family dwellings. (South San Francisco v. Berry (1953) 120 Cal App 2d 252, 260 P2d 1045.)

2. The Out-of-Boundary Extension of Service Requires Approval by LAFCO.

This sewer line extension should have been approved by LAFCO. As you know, a city that wishes to extend sewer service outside of its jurisdictional boundaries must go to LAFCO;

(a) A city or district may provide new or extended services by contract or agreement outside its jurisdictional boundaries only if it first requests and receives written approval from the commission in the affected county.
(b) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries but within its sphere of influence in anticipation of a later change of organization.
(c) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries and outside its sphere of influence to respond to an existing or impending threat to the public health or safety of the residents of the affected territory if … [certain requirements are met].

(Cal. Gov. Code Section 56133.)

Since the sewer is intended to serve a 300-acre parcel outside the City, it implicates LAFCO’s jurisdiction over an “out of boundary” service extension. (See Ceres v. Modesto (1969) 274 Cal. App. 2d 545.)

3. The California Environmental Quality Act.

In December of 2004, the City made a determination that the sewer line
project was categorically exempt from CEQA. Of course, we do not believe the City ever had jurisdiction to make a valid CEQA determination for land uses on land that is not within its territorial limits.

Nevertheless, the City may have incorrectly applied a statutory exemption, instead of a categorical exemption, to find the project exempt from environmental review. In the review and approval of December 21, 2004, the City stet (sic) on Section 21080.21 of the Public Resources Code to find the project exempt. Section 21080.21 provides:

“This division does not apply to any project of less than one mile in length within a public street or highway or any other public right-of-way for the installation of a new pipeline or the maintenance, repair, restoration, reconditioning, relocation, replacement, removal, or demolition of an existing pipeline. For purposes of this section, “pipeline” includes subsurface facilities but does not include any surface facilities related to the operation of the underground facility.”

Reliance on this section may be misplaced. The total sewer line project greatly exceeds one mile in length. Thus, even though the project – as approved – appears to fit the statute, as the length of the first phase of pipeline installation is 5115 feet, this run afoul of a principle of CEQA that one cannot “piecemeal” a project in order to avoid the applicability of CEQA. (Association for a Cleaner Env’t v. Yosemite Community College Dist. (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 629, 638. A lead agency may not split a single large project into small pieces in order to avoid environmental review of the entire project. Orinda Ass’n v. Board of Supervisors (1986) 182 Cal. App. 3d 1145, 1171.

In the most far-reaching decision on the issue of “piecemealing” development projects, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center successfully set aside an EIR for a housing project in Stanislaus County, based on the failure of the project to include construction of sewer lines and construction of a wastewater treatment plant to serve the project. (San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Ctr. V. County of Stanislaus (1994) 267 Cal. App. 4th 713.) In that case the court relied on 14 Cal. Code Regs. Section 15378 (a) which defines the term “project” as “the whole of an action, which has the potential for resulting in a physical change in the environment, directly or ultimately.” Because the sewer expansion had been proposed to serve a housing project, and the housing project could not proceed without an expansion of sewer service, the court concluded that the expansion was an integral component of the housing project.

Second, the pipeline is not located within a public right-of-way. Instead it is located on private property, from which the City got a number of public easement dedications. The acquisition of easements after approval of the proposed project is not in keeping with the claimed exemption.

In addition, the City did not notify the County of its determination as a responsible agency. CEQA sets a standard of communication and cooperation among responsible government agencies with respect to projects.

Lastly, the City did not file a “notice of Exemption” for the pipeline project. (Pub. Res. Code Section 21108.) Although the filing of such a notice is not required by CEQA, it is the standard practice for California government agencies to do so.

According to PMC, consultant to the City, an EIR is being prepared for the City’s sewer and water master plan and this “project” is probably a part of that master plan. WE are concerned that a project has already been approved and constructed that is (or should be) a part of the larger master planning effort that is currently undergoing environmental review.

4. Livingston’s Actions May Have Violated Government Code section 65402.

Section 65402 (b) of the California Government Code states:

“[A] city shall not acquire real property for any of the purposes specified in paragraph (a), nor dispose of any real property, nor construct or authorize a public building or structure, in another city or in unincorporated territory, if such other city or the county in which such unincorporated territory is situated has adopted a general plan or part thereof and such general plan or part thereof is applicable thereto, until the location, purpose and extent of such acquisition, disposition, or such public building or structure have been submitted to and reported upon by the planning agency having jurisdiction, as to conformity with said adopted general plan or part thereof.”

Thus, the City may not authorize a project within the County until the County has determined its consistency with the County’s general plan. If found to be inconsistent, the city council must vote to overrule it. The County was neither consulted nor has the City taken action to overrule the County general plan on the truck line extension.

CONCLUSION

As you can see from the above, the approval of this project by the City is questionable. The project failed to comport with the City’s jurisdictional authority, the Cortese-Know Local Government Reorganization Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and general land use and planning law.

Your help is sought so that the City may take every lawful action to bring its approval of this project into compliance with these laws, including all appropriate environmental analysis. I also request that the City communicate with and cooperate with the County to make certain this project is carried out in conformance with the law.

It is important that the County and the several cities maintain a cooperative and positive working relationship. It is in that spirit that this letter is provided to you. I hope to hear from you soon.

Highest regards,

RUBEN E. CASTILLO
MERCED COUNTY COUNSEL
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Badlandsjournal.com, March 10, 2006

Merced County Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and other members of the concerned public always wondered how developers in Merced County rode roughshod over local, state and federal environmental laws, regulations, agencies and its own public. But, rarely have they been granted the insight provided by this telephone message, recorded on Feb. 3, 2006.

Badlands has blocked out the last two numbers of the telephones the developer left for return calls from the supervisor he thought he’d called as a courtesy to the developer.

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!

End of message…to erase this message press 7, to save it press 9, to hear more options press 0. To replay this message press 4, to get envelope information about this message press 5. To…. Sent February 3rd, at 11:48 am from phone number 704-13** duration 1 minute 14 seconds. To erase this message press 7. To save it press 9. This message will be saved for 21 days. End of messages.

On Feb. 9, City of Livingston Mayor Brandon Friesen wrote San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and members of the public, accusing them of “conducting a documented pursuit and vendetta against Ranchwood Homes.” The mayor said public questions raised and public requests for documentation on this project have “placed our City in the middle of mud slinging and we will not stand for it.”

· The 42-inch sewer trunk line from the City of Livingston: Mr. Hostetler, who does business as Ranchwood Homes, is referring to a mile-long sewer trunk line he built from the corner of the Livingston wastewater treatment plant to a few yards away from where he plans to build a subdivision. The trunk line is built entirely outside the jurisdiction of the City of Livingston in land under county jurisdiction. On Feb. 16, when the project was still incomplete, County Counsel Ruben Castillo wrote a letter to the city attorney of Livingston instructing him in the number of laws the city had broken by “approving” this project beyond its jurisdiction. However, by Feb. 28, the project was completed and the 42-inch, mile-long sewer pipeline was covered over. The public has been granted access to neither city, county nor LAFCO files on this project, despite requests to county CEO Dee Tatum, county Counsel Ruben Castillo, county Director of Planning and Economic Development Robert Lewis, Local Agency Formation Commission Director John LeVan, and the county Board of Supervisors. A request for a meeting with CEO Tatum and department heads has also gone unanswered. The County has taken no action.

· 1,000 acres in North Merced: Ranchwood cleared approximately 1,000 acres of pasture bounded by G Street, La Paloma, Merced Country Club and Old Lake Road, north of Merced. The field crossed Fahrens Creek. Ranchwood put in field roads crossing the creek at two locations, tore out all vegetation along the creek and pushed freshly disked dirt into the stream. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal Endangered Species and the Clean Water Act. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

· 300 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood disked and deep-ripped a portion of a 300-acre field on the corner of White Rock and Le Grand roads in county jurisdiction. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal ESA and CWA. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

· 1,100 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood deep-ripped, leveled and disked approximately 1,100 acres of seasonal pasture land on the SE intersection of Buchanan Hollow and White Rock roads, also near Le Grand. The pastures contained small streams, wetlands, vernal pools and federal and state protected species. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

These are significant conversions of land. Merced County should have directed Ranchwood to do proper environmental review before proceeding. Instead Merced County turned a blind eye to these significant conversions.

State and federal agencies were notified and are expected to uphold regulatory compliance on these projects.

· Franklin County Sewer District: Ranchwood excavated two additional percolation ponds in a field west of Santa Fe Road north of Highway 59 to service a subdivision Ranchwood is building in the Franklin-Beachwood area. The public has requested documentation on this project.

· Land swaps in Planada:

On April 22, 2003, J&J Family Trust sold a parcel of approximately 20 acres on Gerard Road to the Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing for $300,000 (approximating from the tax assessment of 1 percent).

On October 10, 2003, CVCAH sold the parcel to the Merced County Housing Authority for $300,000 (according to what MCHA official Nick Benjamin told members of the Planada public).

On Dec. 2, 2004, a complex land swap took place in Planada.

A. MCHA sold the same parcel (APN# 053-145-024) to the Pacific Holt Corp. for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).

B. A.K. Karmangar, a Planada farmer, sells two parcels (approximately 20 acres) to the MCHA for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).

C. Pacific Holt sells parcel APN# 053-145-024 to Mr. And Mrs. D. Tatum (CEO Merced County) for $269,500.00 (according to the tax assessment). This is apparently a savings of $280,500.00 to the Tatums for a piece of property Pacific Holt bought the same day for approximately twice as much as they sold it to the Tatums.

On Sept. 29, 2005, Hostetler Investment, LLC filed a memorandum of right of option to Pacific Holt Corp to purchase 50 percent of any or all Wallace and Karmangar property actually acquired by Hostetler, and at the actual gross per-acre price. “For instance, if, as expected, Hostetler actually acquires the entirety of the Karmangar Property containing 410+/- gross acres, the Option would apply to 205 +/- acres. The purchase price for both the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property shall be the actual gross per acre price paid by Hostetler to purchase the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property which shall be payable in cash on or before the close of escrow.”

On Dec. 23, 2005, a new entity, Pacific Holt Residential Communities, filed for a county General Plan Amendment for residential construction as the owner of 1,390 acres to be added to the Planada SUDP and to be known as the Village of Geneva at Planada. The acreage is composed of Karmangar and Wallace contiguous parcels.

Pacific Holt Residential Communities consists of Hostetler Investments LLC, Pacific Holt Corp., Premiere Partners III of Illinois, Bear Creek Ranch Inc. and local land holders, Bud Wallace, Inc, Opie and Elizabeth Wallace, Partners, and Hare &Sessions Development, Seattle WA.

The County approved the 2003 Planada Community Plan Update to the Merced County General Plan. The PHR Communities property lies outside of the Planada SUDP except for a 20-acre parcel. The Planada Community Plan has been legally challenged and the case is now in state appellate court.

This is by no means all the Ranchwood Homes projects, even in Merced County alone. It’s just a few examples the public has been able to collect from the east side of the county.

Could county CEO, Dee Tatum, fill in the public (after he’s explained it to Supervisor Crookham) on leapfrog, chaotic, unplanned development – the low, cowboy standards of Merced County planning with an out-dated General Plan, speculation-driven development and a new, incompetent planning director? Why does the County routinely disregard proper public process and the protection of public resources? Why has it shown neither the political will nor the ability to plan coherently in the midst of a speculative real estate boom that began before UC Merced was a “done deal”?

Would CEO Tatum explain why he hired a planning director from Nevada who is incompetent in California environmental law or public processes like the Public Records Act?

Could Supervisor Kathleen Crookham illuminate the public on her special relationship with Ranchwood Homes? Would Supervisor Jerry O’Banion of Los Banos explain how Ranchwood Homes does business, since O’Banion knows all things that occur on the west-side turf he shares with Ranchwood?

The Merced County public should ask how county government can do anything but build a reputation as the most corrupt local land-use authority in the state when the top Democrat opponent of environmental law and regulation in the House of Representatives and one of the key fixers behind UC Merced, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is welcome to sit on the third floor of the county administration building.

The University of California, aided by Cardoza, former Rep.Gary Condit, Blue Dog-Ceres, the Condit children, Gov.Gray Davis and compliant state resource agency heads, railroaded (the term “fast-tracked” was substituted) UC Merced through environmental law, regulation and took local land-use authority, set the cowboy standards for development in Merced County. UC also acquainted local land-use jurisdictions with the magic of legal indemnification against legal challenges brought to protect Merced County natural resources, air, water, agricultural land, infrastructure, public health and safety, and endangered species as well as protecting proper public process.

Bill Hatch

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Public letter in opposition to the Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Nov 14, 2006

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax
raptorctr@bigvalley.net

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350
(209) 523-1391, ph. & fax

Merced County Board of Supervisors November 14, 2006
2222 M Street
Merced, California 95340
Fax: (209) 726-7977
Ph: (209) 385-7366 Via Hand Delivered and Email

Re: Public hearing on Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

1. Development Plan and Administrative Permit

The Riverside Motorsports Park Development Plan and Administrative Permit are the second stage of project approval following adoption of the Master Plan, as required by Merced County’s Planned Development Zone. When submitted, the Development Plan will include a precise plot plan, elevations, landscaping, lighting and other more detailed plans for development of the entirety of the project. The Development and Administrative Permit implement the goals, vision and requirements of the Master Plan. The Administrative Permit will provide the “entitlement” for the RMP project and include a list of conditions of approval under which the facility will operation. All development will be required to be consistent with the Development Plan and Administrative Permit (as may be amended.)

Modifications to the Development Plan and Administrative Permit may be approved administratively by the Planning Director if determined consistent with the intent of the Master Plan, the RMP EIR, and the procedures and finds defined in Section 18.50.02(D) of the Merced County Zoning Code.

-- P. 7-1, RMP Draft Master Plan

The public finds this “implementation” completely unacceptable. Merced County seems to be following the policy that if a sizeable portion of the supervisors’ constituents oppose a project, the final master plan could include changes so substantial to it that they would nullify the project description of its final EIR will be done administratively, without any further public or even legislative review. How excellent a technique for elected officials to wash their hands of the problems this project will cause their own constituents. “Sorry, we can’t do a thing,” the supervisors will be able to say. “It’s all being decided ‘administratively.’”

So, the “master plan” referred to by the county Planning Commission on Oct. 25, either does not yet exist or has not been made available to the public. For example, under the present “administrative” set up, the proponents and the County could create another Pacific Comtech industrial park in RMP final master plan, approved under an EIR to build a racetrack. It would be a radical violation of the project description, but on the other side of Merced we have the UC Community Plan, which every day looks more like the area where the UC Merced campus expansion will go, instead.

2. Disqualification of some supervisors for voting on the RMP project

Coupled with whatever indemnification agreement the County and RMP has reached (not available to the public), this “implementation” insures that once again the elected supervisors will have shielded themselves from any accountability for their decision. The last handicapping of the board of supervisors’ vote was written by RMP CEO John Condren in a letter to his investors last year:

Although it’s too early to start planning a ground-breaking party, we can report that RMP has won the support of 4 of the 5 members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors … and we may succeed in securing the unanimous support of the Board once the EIR is released. In addition, RMP has secured the approval and support of State Senator Jeff Denham, US Congressman Dennis Cardoza, 5 Chambers of Commerce within Merced County, the City Councils of Atwater and Merced, and RMP has the support of the California Builders Industry Association. Added to this list are over 1,500 local Merced County citizens who have signed to be on our project update mailing/e-mail list.

-- Riverside Motorsports Park, 1 January 2005 “To all our valued investors and supporters, Happy New Year!”

Although Foster Farms representatives reported last month being unable to meet with supervisors about their concerns with the project, Condren had apparently met with supervisors nearly two years ago. But the public isn’t as cynical as the RMP boss; we expect surprising acts of good sense from our supervisors.

To begin, it would be a surprising act of good faith if the board disqualified two of its members from voting on the RMP final EIR: Jerry O’Banion and Kathleen Crookham. O’Banion is widely known as having steered the project from the west side to its present location. Crookham gave a promotional talk on the RMP project before the Clipper Club at Central Presbyterian Church. Their involvement with the project ought to disqualify them from voting on it. The appearance of conflict-of-interest mars the deliberations on this extremely important decision in advance.

The board of supervisors needs to recall that it is not required by law to approve a fatally flawed EIR.

3. Airport Land Use Commission decisions

On Oct. 24, the Board of Supervisors voted to override a decision by the Castle Airport Land Use Commission that the RMP project is inconsistent with state Department of Transportation guidelines on projects near airports.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, this “decision” is in fact a project. As presently proposed, it is an unanalyzed and unmitigated segment of the Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP) environmental impact report.

There is a basic flaw in the description of this project and the approval process is being illegally segmented because two parallel, unrelated planning processes are going on.

According to Planning Department staff, the ALUC met last week to reconsider the decision overridden by the board on Oct. 24.

The County has obstructed public access to the airport commission’s decision, although Planning Director Robert Lewis is secretary of the commission. The commission met last week and reached a decision that the public is obstructed from knowing. Apparently, the Planning Department takes the minutes, but they were not available for view on Monday. Therefore, the public, including state and federal agencies, have no chance to analyze the commission’s recommendation. The public does not know if this recommendation requires state and/or federal approval and if that approval is or is not forthcoming, or when it might be. Yet, according to planning department staff, whatever the decision of the ALUC may be, whatever state and federal approval or disapproval it requires, somehow the reduction in size of the noise zone around the airport will appear in the final RMP EIR after the public hearing is closed, at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting.

This project should not go forward until the public and agencies have had a chance to analyze the impacts of the proposed changes at the airport. The FEIR needs to be recirculated, incorporating all documents related to the ALUC recommendation. The airport decision must be treated as a separate project now, because throughout the development of the RMP project, it has been on an unrelated track and cannot be joined at this late date.

According to testimony by the airport manager, the RMP would bring a significant increase in air traffic to the airport. There is no environmental analysis of this significant increase. In fact, there is no environmental or economic analysis of this significant increase. However, in terms of RMP project, it represents a significant, unanalyzed change in the project.

Just because the RMP project cannot go forward without adjustments to the airport noise regulations does not mean that the FEIR and the ALUC decision are part of the same project for planning or bureaucratic purposes. Under CEQA, the needs of the public for access to information and public debate, not the needs of the developer, define the description of the project and proper legal processes in the decision-making.

We submitted the same packet of material to the county Planning Commission on the following day, Oct. 25. We were unable to finish our testimony orally in the time permitted. At the end of the meeting, after the planning commission had made its decision to advise the board to approve the project, our packet was still lying in the basket beside the podium – one more example of the failure of the county to respect and properly consider important information about this project submitted by the public.

4. Immediate issues of public information access

The County has failed to provide the public with a copy of the indemnification agreement between it and RMP. The public has been unable to obtain a copy of the indemnification agreement, therefore the citizens of Merced County do not know what is and what is not indemnified by the developer of this project, who will pay what to whom in case of litigation on a number of possible problems, including fire and police protection, public safety and environmental issues.

The board public hearing on the RMP project was scheduled on the Tuesday following a three-day weekend. Normally, the public would have had access to the staff report for the hearing on Friday. On Friday, the office was closed. But, on Monday, at noon, the public and state and federal resource agencies were unable to get a new staff report, unable to get the ALUC decision, and was not given the opportunity to review the public testimony submitted, the summary report or the minutes of the planning commission hearing. The County is once again obstructing public access to vital information as if the County were above the laws of CEQA and public process.

The County did not make the new staff report to the public (including state and federal agencies) until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the day before the hearing. Nothing could better express the County’s complete contempt for the public and favoritism for special development interests. It also perfectly expresses the County’s lack of respect for law and elemental fairness.

5. Failure to consult federal resource agencies

Canal Creek, along with its associated wetlands and limited tree cover, passes through the northeast corner and to the east of the RMP site. From the project site, Canal Creek flows southwest through Atwater into Black Rascal Creek and eventually into Bear Creek and the San Joaquin River. Canal Creek is a perennial tributary.

Just beyond the northeast boundary is the Castle Dam, a 6,400 acre-foot capacity dry flood control facility operated by the Merced Irrigation District.”

--P. 2-3 Riverside Motorsports Park Draft Master Plan.

This statement, in conjunction with state Department of Fish and Game directive, triggered the necessity of County and proponent consultation with federal resource regulatory agencies. The County and proponents failed to engage in that consultation, fatally damaging the environmental review of the RMP project.

The RMP project lies inside the federal Endangered Species Act critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered species associated with vernal pools. It also lies directly across an endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox migration corridor. The creek running through the project area connects with navigable waters of the US.

However, there is no evidence that – despite the state Department of Fish and Game advise to the County and project proponents – that either the County or proponents ever consulted on these three important federal resource issues, growing more critical in Merced County by the month with the cumulative impacts caused by development induced by UC Merced on valuable eastern Merced County wildlife habitat.

The recent federal court ruling upheld the critical habitat designation. The project area lies well within the US Fish & Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Vernal Pools, and the Service has designated the project area as part of a vital corridor for kit fox east-to-west migration. Until the issue of the connectivity of the creek running through the project site is established by the US Army Corps of Engineers, this project cannot go forward just because the County and proponents have ignored their legal obligations under ESA and the federal Clean Water Act to consult with the federal resource regulatory agencies.

In addition, this project lies within the boundaries of UC Merced and state and federal agencies’ Contiguous Band of Natural Lands and Wildlife-Compatible Farmland that Should Be Maintained. UC Merced regards the existing orchard on the project site as important agricultural land for protection and for the mitigation of take of wildlife habitat. In addition to failing to consult with federal resource regulatory agencies, the Merced County Department of Planning and Community Development failed to consult with the UC Merced Development Planning office.

Merced County, home of UC Merced, is long past the point where it can claim ignorance of federal resource agency jurisdiction over large parts of eastern, as well as western Merced County. The County was notified in September by the state Department of Fish and Game to consult with federal resource agencies.

The RMP project should be re-circulated because the federal agencies were not properly notified by either project proponents, which is understandable, or by the land-use authority, Merced County, which is neither understandable nor legally defensible.

There is no analysis of the impact to species associated with wetlands immediately north of the project at Castle Dam. There is no environmental analysis of the effects of the proposed sound berm on water flowing toward the site.

In the draft EIR, p. 4.4-1 project consultants refer to the Merced Basin Groundwater Management Plan. In fact, the plan does not exist and cannot be used as an authoritative policy document.

6. Failure to do economic analysis on impacts to the Castle Commerce-Aviation & Economic Development area.

A Castle airport manager testified to the planning commission that the RMP project would increase traffic to and from the airport. The RMP final EIR lists 34 significant, unavoidable environmental impacts. The board will have no basis on which to override them but economic. This it will done without any analysis of the economic impacts to the Castle economic development area from being adjacent to a regional auto racing facility subject to periodic traffic jams that, if the track is successful, can only increase in number over time. How will the racetrack economically impact the Castle enterprise with its foreign-trade zone designation, conducive to a number of enterprises that could have provided thousands of jobs fitting the skill level of tens of thousands of Merced’s existing residents? We don’t know and this EIR doesn’t mention the subject. An economic override that lacks any analysis of the economic impacts of the project is not legally compliant.

7. Moratorium until General Plan Update

Planners in Merced County – whether they work for the county planning department, UC Merced, Castle, Merced County Association of Governments or the various cities – have failed to consider the cumulative economic as well as environmental impacts of rapidly sprouting commercial zones, particularly along the Highway 99 corridor. Following on the section above, this is working an economic hardship on plans for the development of Castle, but, overall, it is creating a series of disconnected “anchor tenant” areas, which will induce growth around them. In light of the third failure to pass a sales tax increase to fund road construction and improvement in a county with a general plan so weak and out- of-date it is useless as a planning-guidance tool, these competing commercial zones will soon create traffic-circulation havoc, adding measurably to air pollution, and may produce economic havoc as well. But we don’t know, because there has been no analysis of the economic impacts of chaotic growth in a county with a moribund general plan.

The lack of analysis of cumulative economic and environmental impacts from the chaotic growth in Merced requires the public to demand a moratorium on any more projects not already approved by appropriate local, state and federal agencies. RMP is not approved by the appropriate agencies, therefore the board should not approve it before the county general plan has been fully updated in a legally compliant fashion.

8. Conclusion

The board of supervisors must deny the Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

· an inadequate project description that can be modified at will by administrative decision without public review;
· serious conflicts of interest involving at least two members of the board voting on the project and the applicant’s claims nearly two years ago that he already had a super-majority of supervisors in his pocket;
· segmenting and peacemealing the entirely different project of the override of the Castle Land Use Commission decision, which requires its own EIR;
· deliberate failure of the County to make essential project documents available to the public in a timely manner;
· failure of the land-use authority to perform its mandatory duty to consult federal resource regulatory agencies on the environmental impacts of the proposed project;
· failure to do any analysis on the economic impacts of the proposed project on the Castle Commercial-Aviation Economic Development area;
· failure of the County to do cumulative economic impact studies on the impacts of this proposed project and other commercial, growth-inducing anchor tenants;
· failure of the County to consider the negative impact on the proposed project of the third failure of the transportation tax measure.

Sincerely,

Lydia Miller Steve Burke

Attachments:
TNC Predicted Vernal Pool Taxa
Dept. F&G San Joaquin Kit Fox Approximate Distribution
UC Merced San Joaquin Kit Fox Habitat Map
UC Merced Vernal Pool and Related Wetlands Map
“Supervisors override ban on building near airport,” Merced Sun-Star
Eastern Merced Bird List
US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Upland Species Map
US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Vernal Pool Ecosystems
( hard copy of Service recovery plan and above items delivered by hand along with this letter to the Board of Supervisors at its public hearing, Nov. 14, 2006)

All other attachments submitted electronically:
Eastern Merced Bird List
Silviera Bird List
UC Merced San Joaquin Kit Fox Habitat Map
UC Merced Vernal Pool and Related Wetlands Map
“Supervisors override ban on building near airport,” Merced Sun-Star
RMP articles
BadlandsJournal.com Riverside Motorsports Park CEO Letter to Investors
Vernal Pool Critical Habitat Lawsuit
Pacific Comtec lawsuit petition
Coalition Statement
US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Upland Species Map
TNC Predicted Vernal Pool Taxa
Dept. F&G San Joaquin Kit Fox Approximate Distribution

Cc: Interested parties
BadlandsJournal

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Federal court orders delay in certification of local elections in Merced County

Submitted: Nov 05, 2006

A federal district court has ordered Merced County and four cities not to certify all local elections held on Nov. 7 until a motion for preliminary injunction arguing violations of the Voting Rights Act is heard on Nov. 21. One election that won't be affected is for the 18th Congressional District. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, whose offices are on the third floor of the Merced County Administrative Building, fount of the "alleged" violations of the act.

Under the temporary restraining order written by Judge Oliver Wanger on Friday, one county-wide measure, Measure G, cannot be certified until the next hearing on the voting rights violations. The list of discrepancies and potential irregularities in this measure is growing by the day.

Local government is in a bad way when the most burning public issue is whether officials are corrupt or incompetent.

Bill Hatch
--------------------------------

Nov. 4, 2006
Merced Sun-StarVoting lawsuit may delay local results...John Ellis, Fresno Bee
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12973317p-13624767c.html
FRESNO -- Certification of Tuesday's elections in four Merced County cities could be delayed by a lawsuit that claims the cities violated the Voting Rights Act by annexing land without federal government approval. In a worst-case scenario for Atwater, Gustine, Livingston and Los Banos, mayors and council members elected Tuesday could be delayed from taking office until the matter is resolved. During a hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger in Fresno, the cities agreed not to certify their elections until the Justice Department grants the approvals. "That was a major accomplishment," said Joaquin Avila, an attorney and Seattle University law professor who filed the suit on behalf of Los Banos residents Felix Lopez and Elizabeth Ruiz. If that doesn't happen by Nov. 21, a three-judge panel that day will hear a request by the two plaintiffs for an injunction that, if granted, would prohibit the elections from being certified until the Justice Department approves the annexations. If the case does move forward past Nov. 21, the four cities previewed their defense Friday. That defense: They are not subject to the Voting Rights Act.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
FELIX M. LOPEZ and ELIZABETH RUIZ, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated,
Plaintiffs,
v.
MERCED COUNTY, CALIFORNIA; LOCAL AREA FORMATION COMMISION OF MERCED COUNTY (“LAFCO”), CALIFORNIA; CITY OF ATWATER, CALIFORNIA; CITY OF DOS PALOS, CALIFORNIA; CITY OF GUSTINE, CALIFORNIA; CITY OF LIVINGSTON, CALIFORNIA; CITY OF LOS BANOS, CALIFORNIA; BALLICO COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; CENTRAL CALIFORNIA IRRIGATION DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; DELHI COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; EAST MERCED RESOURCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; FRANKLIN COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; HILMAR COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; LE GRAND COMMUNITY SERVICE DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; LOS BANOS RESOURCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; MERQUIN COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; MIDWAY COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; PLANADA COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; SANTA NELLA COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; SNELLING COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; SOUTH DOS PALOS COUNTY WATER DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; TURLOCK IRRIGATION DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; VOLTA COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA; WINTON WATER AND SANITARY DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA,
Defendants.
)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))
1:06-cv-1526 OWW DLB
THREE JUDGE COURT
ORDER FOLLOWING HEARING ON PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER

Plaintiffs, Felix M. Lopez’s and Elizabeth Ruiz’s Motion for Temporary Restraining Order came on for hearing on November 3, 2006, in Courtroom 3 of the above-captioned Court, Oliver W. Wanger, United States District Judge, presiding. Plaintiffs were represented by their counsel Joaquin G. Avila, Esq. and Brian Sutherland, Esq. Merced County was represented by its attorneys James N. Fincher, Esq., County Counsel Designee and Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor LLP by Christopher E.
Skinnell, Esq. and Marguerite Mary Leoni, Esq. The Local Area Formation Commission of Merced County (“LAFCO”) was represented by its counsel Best, Best & Krieger by Gene Tanaka, Esq.
Defendant City of Atwater was represented by its attorneys Allen, Proietti & Fagalde LLP by Salvador V. Navarrete, Esq. The City of Dos Palos did not appear. Winton Water and Sanitary District appeared by its attorney Craig Mortensen, Esq. The City of Gustine appeared by its attorneys Berliner Cohen by Thomas E. Ebersole, Esq. The City of Livingston appeared by Burke, Williamson & Sorensen LLP by Sarah Peters Gorman, Esq. The City of Los Banos appeared by its attorney Abbott & Kindermann LLP, by Joel Ellinwood, Esq. There was no appearance for the following Defendant Districts: Ballico Community Services District,
California; Central California Irrigation District, California; Delhi County Water District, California; City of Dos Palos, California; East Merced Resource Conservation District, California; Franklin County Water District, California; Hilmar County Water District, California; Le Grand Community Service District, California; Los Banos Resource Conservation District,California; Merquin County Water District, California; Midway Community Services District, California; Planada Community Services District, California; Santa Nella County Water District, California; Snelling Community Services District, California; South Dos Palos County Water District, California; Turlock Irrigation District, California; and Volta Community Services District, California.

After considering the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, supporting declarations and legal authorities and the opposition legal authorities, declarations and oral arguments of all counsel, the following order is entered with the agreement of the parties.

IT IS ORDERED:
Certification Of Election Results
The County of Merced, City of Atwater, City of Gustine, City of Livingston, and City of Los Banos agree not to certify the results of County or City elections before the hearing of and decision on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction. If the City of Dos Palos is holding elections it shall not certify the result of its City elections before said hearing.

Exception

1. All City Defendants may certify the results of the
November 7, 2006, state-wide and federal elections, but not local elections. The County agrees not to certify any election results before hearing of and decision on the Preliminary Injunction.

2. Plaintiffs agree that if any Defendant receives
allegedly required DOJ pre-clearance or approval of all boundary change actions or other voting changes that are the subject of Plaintiffs’ Complaint prior to date of the hearing of the Preliminary Injunction, as to that Defendant, the Motion for Injunctive Relief is withdrawn and that Defendant shall be free to certify all its election results.

3. As to the non-County and non-City District Defendants
and LAFCO, no present injunctive relief is required as none of those Defendant Districts are holding elections November 7, 2006.

Order To Show Cause Re Preliminary Injunction

All Defendants, and those acting for, under or in concert
with them, shall show cause, if any they have, why they should not be enjoined from finalizing or certifying the November 7,2006, election results until there is full compliance with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 42 U.S.C. § 1973c.

The following schedule shall govern further briefing and hearing on the Order to Show Cause Re Preliminary Injunction:

a. Plaintiffs’ supplemental authorities and/or other
submissions shall be filed by midnight, November 8, 2006;

b. All Defendants’ oppositions to Plaintiffs’ motion for
Preliminary Injunction shall be filed by midnight, November 17,2006;

c. The hearing on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary
Injunction shall be held November 21, 2006, at 1:00 p.m. in
Courtroom 3, Seventh Floor of the above-captioned Court at 2500 Tulare Street, Fresno, California, before United States Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee, United States District Judge Oliver W. Wanger, and United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii, sitting as a three-judge district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.

§ 2284.
No Testimony To Be Presented
After inquiry of each appearing party, no party intends to
present testimony at the OSC hearing.
DATED: November 3, 2006, at Fresno, California.
SO ORDERED
/s/ Oliver W. Wanger
OLIVER W. WANGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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Letter to Merced County Planning Commission regarding the Riverside Motorsports Park final environmental impact report

Submitted: Oct 25, 2006

The following letter, partially read at the public hearing before the Merced County Planning Commission, remained in a basket beside the podium for speakers -- unread, therefore unconsidered by the commission -- for the duration of the hearing at the end of which the commission approved the EIR, General Plan amendment, zoning change and four other items on the project.

Bill Hatch
-------------------

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax
raptorctr@bigvalley.net

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350
(209) 523-1391, ph.

Mr. James Holland October 25, 2006
Merced County Planning Department
2222 M Street
Merced, California 95340
Fax: (209) 726-1710

Merced County Planning Commission
2222 M St.
Merced CA 95340
Tel: 385-7654 Via Hand Delivered

Re: Merced County Planning Commission Public Hearing on General Plan Amendment Application No. GPA03-005 and Zone change Application No. ZC3-007, Merced County Board of Supervisors’ Oct. 24 Public hearing to consider the issuance of a proposed decision and findings regarding the Airport Land Use Commission's Finding as to consistency between the Airport Land Use Plan and the Riverside Motorsports Park Project, RMP Master Plan, staff reports, findings, resolutions, and overrides.

Merced County Planning Commissioners:

This comment is made at the Merced County Planning Commission Public Hearing on Application No. GPA03-005 and ZC3-007, Oct. 25, 2006.

We challenge the propriety of the Merced County Planning Department to put this item before you today because the whole of the Riverside Motorsports Park project is dependent on an item heard but not decided yesterday by the county Board of Supervisors: Public hearing to consider the issuance of a proposed decision and findings regarding the Airport Land Use Commission's Finding as to consistency between the Airport Land Use Plan and the Riverside Motorsports Park Project (attached find our letter and attachments submitted to the board on Oct. 24).

First of all, we believe that RMP developers and Merced County were able to successfully lobby CalTrans into temporarily shrinking the size of the real hazard zone to 6,000 feet around the Castle airfield and that, once the racetrack is approved and built, the state will reinstate the original 10,000-foot zone.

For the commission to come to a decision today on this RMP application risks multiple violations of public process, which began when the board held a hearing yesterday on this illegally segmented, intrinsic element of the RMP application.

Yesterday’s board of supervisors’ hearing violated public processes and environmental review.

The staff report on yesterday’s public hearing on the proposed decision regarding the ALUC’s findings was so flawed that supervisors’ were not sure what they were voting on. One supervisor agreed to vote affirmatively only after it was explained that she would not be voting for an override of the ALUC’s consistency findings, but that she was only voting on a proposed decision that must be reviewed by the state Department of Transportation and the ALUC over the next month. In fact, the board was directed by staff to vote for an override.

“Proposed decision: Based on the foregoing recitals and findings, the Board of Supervisors overrules the ALUC Oct. 1, 2003 finding of inconsistency between the RMP project and the ALUP.” – Staff report on Board of Supervisors’ Public Hearing # 2, Oct. 24, 2006.

However, another glaring error occurred in the conduct of the board’s Oct. 24 meeting during the public comment period before the public hearing on the ALUC’s findings was even opened. The public packed the room and the lobby. The board chairman did nothing to stop them or direct the testimony to the proper time. Therefore, the bulk of the testimony given by both sides in the public-comment period will not become a part of the record of this public hearing. This raises even deeper concerns about the validity of the hearing.

We believe that legally compliant public process requires that the County incorporate the oral and written testimony given both during the public-comment period and during the public hearing and that the testimony be forwarded to the state Department of Transportation, the ALUC and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The issue of the override, upon which the RMP project depends, has not been decided and the validity of the board’s vote is in question. Therefore, the commission cannot know what it is voting on today and should not vote on the RMP application. If it does vote on the application, it will be complicit in a flawed public process and a flawed environmental process, because the ALUC’s findings and decision is intrinsic to this project and is being illegally segmented.

The public is constantly criticized for submitting material at public hearings. In this case, the County and the developers waited until a day before the planning commission public hearing on the RMP final EIR to railroad the board into overriding a local agency decision of such major importance that without it the project can’t go forward.

The Castle Master Plan, adjacent municipal and community plans, and the county General Plan updates have just begun. The purposes of these plans and their goals and guidelines are to act as reference points for judgment on new projects. These plans are crucial for guidance on projects with impacts the size of RMP, a regional motorsports facility adjacent to the longest airport runway in the San Joaquin Valley and a federal penitentiary, in the middle of one of the nation’s two worst air pollution basins.

General and specific plans are effectively the only means the present Merced County public has to defend its future against rampant growth. Deciding on these projects before these new plans have been adopted is similar to another example of county planning leadership under Robert Lewis: Hostetler’s illegal 42-inch pipeline through a mile of county land without any permit at all. Like that sewer line, RMP will determine the pattern of growth in its respective areas. Those development-driven plans will have very little to do with official “plans,” which the public pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to have prepared by trained planners. Nor is there any difference between the behavior of John Condren and Greg Hostetler in their blatant, successful efforts to influence county staff and special-interest-funded elected officials. Both of them use helicopters in interesting ways.

A letter from Condren to his investors stated:

Although it’s too early to start planning a ground-breaking party, we can report that RMP has won the support of 4 of the 5 members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors … and we may succeed in securing the unanimous support of the Board once the EIR is released.

In addition, RMP has secured the approval and support of State Senator Jeff Denham, US Congressman Dennis Cardoza, 5 Chambers of Commerce within Merced County, the City Councils of Atwater and Merced, and RMP has the support of the California Builders Industry Association. -- http://www.badlandsjournal.com/old/getarch2.php?title=RMP%20racetrack%20letter%20to%20investors

Hostetler told Supervisor Crookham in a telephone message:

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! -- http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=84

In the RMP project before you today, a similar corrupt pattern is evident: county Planning Director Robert Lewis is an officer of the ALUC, a direct conflict. Mr. Lewis is a very interested party in this project.

The RMP project is another perfect example of how Merced County does business and calls it government.

The county Planning Department has consistently failed to present the public with clear statements of the public processes involved in its projects. For example, the County cannot plead ignorance for its systematic failure to notify federal resource agencies on environmental review processes. The County knows the maps for habitats for endangered species like the San Joaquin Valley kit fox, and the County knows where Critical Habitat and Recovery Plan areas are located. The County understands that analysis of environmental impacts in Merced County cannot ignore compliance with federal regulations. The County also understands that it cannot indefinitely defer rapidly mounting quantities of unmitigated environmental impacts.

The Merced County public has raised the issue of living wages and health benefits in connection with Wal-Mart. We are also concerned that no one in this corrupted process of the RMP project has addressed the issue of union labor or benefits for non-union labor.

The Merced public understands that RMP and Wal-Mart are the anchor tenants for both ends of the UC Merced loop road. This isn’t planning. It is an absurd level of environmental destruction and it threatens public health and safety.

Yesterday’s board hearing segmented an essential part of the whole RMP plan away from environmental review as well as segmenting the timeline for public hearings on this project. Improper segmentation of the RMP project has occurred on four levels:

· Administrative: the ALUC decision, an essential element in the RMP project, has been improperly segmented from the whole of the project;
· Environmental: the ALUC decision is a part of the project as a whole and requires environmental review;
· Timeline: the County and the developer broke the hearings on what is one project into two days and two different forums;
· Administrative record: the County and the developer are fragmenting the records of these hearings to create an obstacle to legal challenge.

We strongly urge the planning commission not to vote on the RMP application today. In view of the mounting number of procedural flaws in the RMP permitting process, deciding on this application will only deepen the morass of conflicts into which the county is falling as a result of this and several other major projects.

The oral public testimony made yesterday during the public-comment period at the board meeting and the oral and written testimony offered during the public hearing on the ALUC decision must be incorporated into this project. The ALUC decision is so intrinsic to RMP’s project that it cannot construct the racetrack unless that decision is overridden.

We also urge RMP proponents to voluntarily withdraw their application before the commission today for the good of the county’s public process.

Finally, we would like to express our frustration at the County for having shared our letter with the RMP developers, causing a racetrack rally at the board chambers yesterday morning, while the County did not share with the public an adequate amount of information. This offers the public no incentive to get their comments in before public hearings.

Following yesterday’s board hearing, when members of the public requested a list of any additional written comments for the hearing from a clerk at the board office, the public was presented with forms to fill out. Members of the public now make an official request that before the County shares our comment letters with developers, it must first make a formal request to whatever members of the public wrote the comments so that we can track you, as you track us. Stacking information access against the public and tracking the public must stop.

Attached you will find our Oct. 25 letter to the Merced County Planning Commission and to the county Board of Supervisors on Oct. 24, and attachments.

We reserve the right to submit additional documents at the public hearing.

Sincerely,

Lydia M Miller Steve Burke

Cc.

Federal agencies
Marsha Burch, Esq.
Babak Naficy, Esq.
Don Mooney, Esq.
James Marshall, Esq.
Rose Zoia, Esq.
Susan Brandt-Hawley, Esq.
Bruce Owdom, Esq.
Keith Wagner, Esq.
Hal Candee, Esq. NRDC
Kim Delfino, Esq. Defenders of Wildlife
Mike Sherwood, Esq. Earthjustice
John Williams
Tom Adams, Esq.
Badlandsjournal.com
Other interested parties

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COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN!

Submitted: Aug 14, 2006

Members of the San Joaquin Valley public would like to invite you to the first annual UC Pombozastan Pot Luck.

We’ve got the barrel; you bring the pork.

Public/private partnerships get preferential picnic tables behind gated, straw-bale walls, just like they did it at the old-time Condit Country extravaganzas.

The Valley public would like to invite you all to Merced to help us get this UC Merced 900-acre expansion past them damn federal environmental regulators. Our largest developer, the University of California Board of Regents, is having trouble getting a pesky little Clean Water Act permit out of the Army Corps of Engineers so they can build on land in a ESA designated critical habitat area containing the richest fields in the state of vernal pools, environment for 15 endangered species of flora and fauna, for which one cannot help but think a responsible, institution of public higher education would have secured a permit before commencing construction. The UC Regents are at least not supposed to be typical California fly-by-night developers.

But, who cares? COME ON DOWN! Bring the People’s Money, we’ll run it through UC and it will pick up your tab. Stay anywhere, pay as much as you want for breakfast, lunch and dinner, rent only the most expensive cars – if you need further instructions we can refer you to UC consultants, who can teach you also how to add that absolutely mandatory 10-20 percent on every expense chit.

COME ON DOWN and see UC Merced, which the last state Senate Pro Tem called the “biggest boondoggle ever.” – New campus still faces obstacles, William Trombley, Spring 2004, National CrossTalk, a publication of National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, http://www.highereducation.org/crosstalk/ct0204/news0204-obstacles.shtml

"I don't know why anyone would be surprised," said Patrick Callan, president of the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which has offices in San Jose and Washington, D.C. "It was just the wrong campus in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was pork-barrel politics and institutional arrogance that led us to this. There was a belief at UC that you could just hang a UC shingle out and that would attract students."

-- Merced: Some students at brand-new UC campus say they want out, Tanya Schevitz, San Francisco Chronicle, July 17, 2006, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/17/BAGOLK0B6M1.DTL

And, hey, be sure to bring the People’s Money with you, because UC Merced wants all of it. UC’s talented team of tax-paid flaks and lobbyists can give you all the details. The effort will no doubt be headed by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. Surely, you know the Shrimp Slayer – he’s the guy who’s making Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy’s war against the Endangered Species Act “bipartisan,” on behalf of a few developers, large landowners, financial institutions and realtors in their adjoining districts. Down here we call them the “Pomboza.”

WASHINGTON — ... On Tuesday, Cardoza and Pombo split roughly $50,000 raised at a bipartisan fund-raiser sponsored by prominent developer Greenlaw "Fritz" Grupe. Grupe is active in both San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, with subdivisions underway in Modesto, Turlock, Hughson, Waterford and Stockton.
Grupe also favors the kind of collaborative work Cardoza and Pombo have done on the Endangered Species Act and other issues. While agreeing the joint fund-raiser held at the developer's Lodi ranch was "rather unique," Cardoza said it sent the right kind of signal.
"Frankly, if we cooperated more aggressively, we would all be better off," Cardoza said.

--Valley political bonds strong, Oakland Tribune, Apr 1, 2005 by Michael Doyle, MODESTO BEE http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20050401/ai_n14615689

What Cardoza calls aggressive cooperation, we call the Pombozation of the San Joaquin Valley.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN and watch Pombo and Cardoza pombozate the West’s federal resource agencies.

COME ON DOWN and bring us the People’s Money. We don’t have enough of it. You’ve no doubt read the Congressional report about how the San Joaquin Valley is poorer in some ways than Appalachia. We appreciate our subsidized water, our subsidized cotton, dairy and cattle industries, and all the health and human services aid you’ve been sending. But we need more of it, more and more and more of it. We can’t make it without more and more of the People’s Money down here in Pombozastan, the former San Joaquin Valley. And if we don’t get it, we’re going to pave over the largest, richest agricultural valley in the West.

So there!

COME ON DOWN!

Listen to the UC Merced Chancellor (until she quits at the end of the month)! We need a UC Merced research medical school down here to specialize in respiratory illnesses, cancer clusters, pesticide related diseases, diseases related to contaminated ground water, drug addictions, rural mental illnesses and disorders arising from bovine flatulence here in the epicenter of the dairy industry in the nation’s top dairy state. Pledge the People’s Money to build out UC Merced, which will stimulate a tremendous amount of growth because it will be the anchor tenant for development down the east side of the Valley from Sacramento to Kern counties along a planned eastside Highway 65 and an Eastside Canal.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN and help replace Valley life with mega-dairy subdivisions-in-waiting and slurbocracy. And while you’re at it, explain why you’re doing it, because we really don’t know and the Pomboza won’t tell. Nevertheless, Cardoza provides thoughtful continuity for the slurbocracy from his top floor offices in the Merced County Administration Building.

COME ON DOWN! We know this all sounds a little grim, but we want to assure you that the Valley is a really funny place. We’ve got comedians galore here in Merced. Consider the UC Chancellor Until the End of the Month, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, for example. She had the whole Valley rolling on the floor in helpless mirth this week, when she told the McClatchy chain reporter:

"I needed to make (congressmen) aware that this is the beginning of the process," Tomlinson-Keasey said. "People speak out all the time and say their opinion, (but) I have talked with the Corps, and they have assured me they will play by the rules."

Choking back life-threatening guffaws, members of the public asked: “What rules could she possibly be talking about?”

Surely, she could not be talking about local, state or federal environmental law and regulation. Beyond urging the Pomboza onward to alter it to suit UC’s needs in eastern Merced County, she has no tolerance for it.

Surely, she could not be talking about the rules of good taste, whose university campus sponsors a yearly Fairy Shrimp Festival, hosted in its inaugural year by the unemployable son of a recently ousted provost.

Surely, she could not be talking about those rules of candor said to govern testimony before legislative committees.

Surely, she could not be talking about regulations governing the rehabilitation of wildlife, when she purloined a bobcat for the UC Merced mascot that should have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

Surely, she must be speaking about the UC RULE: UC is sovereign and gets what it wants.

Another great Merced comedian is the businessman Mr. UC Merced, Bob Carpenter, who appeared in the pages of the Los Angeles Times this morning:

So why didn't the university secure permission to build the entire campus before beginning work? "It's easy to criticize after the fact," said Bob Carpenter, a Merced resident who has helped with university planning for 18 years. "But you could argue that if you wait until all the I's are dotted and all the Ts are crossed, probably no projects would ever get done."

But then, the chancellor, not to be trumped in the comedy game by a mere UC Merced booster, even if Carpenter could be called, justly, The UC Merced Booster, concludes:

She expects the Merced campus to infuse the area with a smart-growth population and jobs. "We're contributing enormously to the community."
"We believe we deserve an Olympic gold medal, and not have every bump being foreseen as some Mt. Everest to climb."

An Olympic gold medal, some would say, requires a sports team of some sort. The UCM Golden Bobcats are undefeated so far, but they remain in smoky backrooms rather than taking the field in any sport in which they would have to play by any rules other than their own.

UC built the first phase of the Merced campus without getting a Clean Water Act permit. They spent millions in state public funds on conservation easements to mitigate for wetlands habitat, as the result of backroom deals in the state Capitol between the governor, congressmen, state legislators vying to see who was the Biggest Mr. UC Merced of them all, state and federal resource agency officials, The Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society and other prominent state and national level environmental sluts. Yet, today, when federal agencies look at these easements, they discover many of them aren’t on the right land and have no financial mechanism for monitoring. In some cases, landowners are under the impression they can take millions in public funds for easements yet refuse to let resource officials on the land to monitor the condition of the natural habitat.

COME ON DOWN! The pombozated federal resource agencies are holding a raffle on our remaining natural resources, wildlife habitat and wetlands – piece by fragmented piece.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN! Watch the Developer Dutch Auction on San Joaquin Valley land-use planning.

COME ON DOWN! Watch the sales-tax increase sweepstakes so that the Valley can match funds with the federal government on new freeways, highways and loop roads to stimulate even more growth, as the rural county roads crumble before your eyes. Come on down and watch them fill the potholes in front of the Merced County Association of Governments office!

COME ON DOWN and learn the mystical process of making plans to make plans to make plans to make plans and get public funds to do it.

COME ON DOWN and listen to some whoppers about the Merced County water supply plan, which ain’t, but they all say it is.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN and observe, first hand, the latest design in up-scale yuppie labor camps – zero lot lines, no yards, parks and play areas closer to the freeway than to the home. Watch childhood asthma develop before your very eyes as you are stalled in freeway traffic.

COME ON DOWN and join the fun, if you want to play by the rules UC, the Pomboza, the developers and our wise, far-seeing local governments make up as they go along for the benefit of themselves and their families.

COME ON DOWN! We got a lake to sell you full of Anglo rowing teams.

COME ON DOWN! Maybe you can be an early student in UC Merced’s Coelho Institute of Honest Graft (and public policy), or the McClatchy/Singleton School of Conglomerate Media Management, or study the nanotechnology of nuclear weapons triggers. If you’re lucky and everything goes right, you might get a joint appointment with UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to study Ebola and Anthrax in a genuine safety level 4 biowarfare lab.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN!

We got the barrel; you bring the pork.

Badlands editorial staff
---------------------------

Notes:

Los Angeles Times
Wetlands give UC Merced growing pains...Tanya Caldwell
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-merced13aug13,1,7214931,print.story
University of California Merced - which cost more than $500 million and took nearly 20 years to plan - still lacks federal permission to build on wetlands near the fledgling campus. UC Merced is developing 105 acres as part of Phase I of the campus and plans to build Phase II on 805 adjoining acres it purchased near Lake Yosemite...that second parcel includes 86 acres of federally protected wetlands. Now, university officials are hoping for an environmental permit to destroy the vernal pools on those wetlands and build, among other things, institutes to study the environment and energy. So why didn't the university secure permission to build the entire campus before beginning work? "It's easy to criticize after the fact," said Bob Carpenter, a Merced resident who has helped with university planning for 18 years. "But you could argue that if you wait until all the I's are dotted and all the Ts are crossed, probably no projects would ever get done." That's true especially in the era of the federal Clean Water Act, which demands permits before wetlands can be destroyed, said UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. "I think we've shown that this is a very reasonable site." The Corps released - and then swiftly rescinded - a draft environmental impact statement detailing concerns about losing the vernal pools. Corps officials said the draft was incomplete and had been released prematurely. They expect to issue an official draft in a few months. But the draft has already created a buzz in Merced, where the Merced Sun-Star and Fresno Bee ran stories July 29 in which a Corps official said a permit for the university's preferred expansion plan "will not likely be granted." Kevin Roukey, the Corps' senior project manager...quoted in the Sun-Star...the site's vernal pools have "basically been determined to be the best in the state, and maybe even the country." Some local environmentalists, such as Carol Witham, have threatened to sue if the Corps grants the permit despite what she calls the university's "flagrant disregard for federally protected land." "They assumed that by having the campus there, that they can force their way into building the rest of the site," Witham, founder of the website vernalpools.org, said of university officials. "We advised them early on that they should've done all of their permits ahead of time. They're essentially gambling with the taxpayers' money." Saturday - the chancellor released a statement saying that Roukey's evaluations "represent the personal opinions of a single individual" and don't foretell the Corps' final decision. Corps officials later agreed and said it was too early to predict what would happen at UC Merced. They added that concerns found in the report wouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker for the university's proposals. For years, the chancellor said, the Central Valley has been "underserved." She expects the Merced campus to infuse the area with a smart-growth population and jobs. "We're contributing enormously to the community."
"We believe we deserve an Olympic gold medal, and not have every bump being foreseen as some Mt. Everest to climb."

Sacramento Bee
Comments...Pressure's on for UC campus expansion
http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/nation/story/14292794p-15132061c.html
Should have located it at Castle...blindman at 3:37 PM PST Friday, August 11, 2006 wrote:
The infrastructure for a new community exists near Merced - it's the abandoned Castle AFB. As usual, UC administrators demostrate that those in ivory towers have little practical sense. A castle location would have been cheaper, and demostrated better overall stewardship of open space.

Stockton Record
Let's get serious...Editorial
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20060813&Category=OPED01&ArtNo=608130306&SectionCat=&Template=printart
More Californians are classified as being poor than at any time in the state's history. Only the Great Depression of the 1930s compares. One of every two public-school students is from a family that qualifies for federal aid. That's a staggering 50 percent. Poverty isn't an ethnic problem. It knows no skin color. It's not confined by geography. People can't build enough gated communities. Poverty crosses every line and creeps into every area of life. Those mired in poverty struggle through each day trying just to survive, unable to do anything meaningful to elevate themselves or their families. Too many leaders...consider progress to be more houses and businesses without adequately accounting for a deterioration in the quality of life for those unable to participate fully in that growth. Obviously, it's difficult to develop a truly meaningful blueprint for change, but we have to try. It's even harder to convince the comfortable and affluent that breaking the cycle of poverty is in their best interest, too. If we don't, an ever-widening gap between rich and poor will reshape California and San Joaquin County in regrettable and regressive ways.

Inside Bay Area
UC, lab, want to build huge biodefense lab...Ian Hoffman
http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_4176406
On rolling, grassy hills between the Bay Area's cities and the farms of the Central Valley, the University of California and scientists of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory see a sprawling biodefense lab as large as two Wal-Mart Supercenters. The University of California and Lawrence Livermore lab are proposing construction in the middle of the lab's Site 300, a once-remote explosives testing area. University officials have rounded up endorsements from the mayor of Livermore to U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, and from the state Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura to the California cattlemen's and poultry associations. Much of the new lab would operate at Biosafety Level 3, a category of biocontainment used for plague and tularemia. But some of the lab, perhaps a fifth or more, would operate at Biosafety Level 4, the highest level of biocontainment. BSL4 is reserved for diseases having no known vaccine such as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, foot and mouth disease or avian flu and requiring researchers to wear "moonsuits" inside airlocked labs. Federal officials have not elaborated on exactly which microorganisms would be studied in the new lab and the degree to which those germs would be modified. The university rejected a request by Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment, a Livermore lab watchdog group, for a copy of its proposal. Twenty-nine teams, mostly led by U.S. universities, leaped to make proposals. On Wednesday, the Homeland Security Department narrowed the list to 18 teams in 11 states. A smaller list of semi-finalists will be visited by federal officials in October, and the finalists will be evaluated in a full, environmental impact study over the next year, with a final decision in July 2008 and operations in 2013.

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Tensions mount over USCS growth...Shanna McCord
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/August/13/local/stories/01local.htm
The battle to stop UC Santa Cruz from expanding student enrollment by nearly 50 percent to 21,000 in the next 15 years, along with 2,000 new faculty and staff members, came to a head this week. The University of California threatened to sue the city unless two measures were pulled off the November ballot that seek to stop growth identified in the long-range development plan without UCSC paying its share of impacts on city services such as water, housing and transportation. Almost in the same breath, UC last week offered the city a proposal if the ballot measures were halted. Details of the proposal were not released publicly. The City Council, during a special closed-session meeting Wednesday, unanimously rejected the University of California's proposal and agreed to move forward with the ballot measures even if that means a lawsuit looms. It won't be known exactly how much the city is seeking from UCSC for mitigation costs until a final environmental impact report for the long-range development plan is certified. Since UCSC's long-range development plan of 1988 was written, the university has paid the city roughly $1.2 million to help cover off-campus impacts on infrastructure, including water pump upgrades, a new traffic signal, new turn lane and widening Mission Street. Looking at UCSC's projected water use in the future shows increased demand of 500,000 gallons a day, bringing total daily use at the campus to 2.5 million gallons, which Kocher says the city doesn't have the capacity to provide. To meet the increased water demand, Kocher said UCSC would be forced to rely on the proposed $40 million desalination plant. The additional 500,000 gallons a day for UCSC represents about one-fifth of the desalination plant's estimated capacity, which Kocher said would mean the university should contribute one-fifth of the cost - $8 million - toward its construction and operation. City and county leaders won confidence that the Santa Cruz ballot measures would be less at risk of drawing a lawsuit after the state Supreme Court recently ruled that California State University can't skirt its obligation to pay for off-campus impacts associated with growth.

8-10-06
Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced seeks aid of lawmakers. University looks to Congress to allow expansion plans...Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12569266p-13279371c.html
WASHINGTON -- UC Merced advocates are turning the political dials to avoid permit problems with the Army Corps of Engineers...university's chancellor is calling members of Congress. Lawmakers are leaning on the Corps...all in hopes of salvaging a 900-acre expansion plan favored by the university. "This project is too important to face setbacks over communication," Jennifer Walsh, chief of staff for Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced... The joint university and congressional maneuvering follows a warning - since disputed - that UC Merced's preferred expansion plan probably won't get a permit... Tomlinson-Keasey stressed that Roukey's comments should be considered personal and not a foreshadowing of the final Corps decision. "I needed to make (congressmen) aware that this is the beginning of the process." "People speak out all the time and say their opinion, (but) I have talked with the Corps, and they have assured me they will play by the rules." One San Joaquin Valley congressional tactic now is to ensure that officials more senior than Roukey are engaged in the project, one congressional staffer explained. This entails enlisting officials both at Corps headquarters in Washington and California. "Political pressure has driven a lot of this project from the start," said Carol Witham, founder of the Sacramento-based organization called VernalPools.org. "The draft as originally written would not have withstood a legal test,..."but I think they were under pressure by the university." The university's stated position is that the alternative campus sites are "not reasonably available, obtainable or practical because they would require the acquisition of dozens of new tracts of land, in contiguous parcels, from many different owners, at a cost of more than $100 million in new taxpayer outlays."

8-4-06
San Francisco Chronicle
UC barred from deciding pay packages in private...Patrick Hoge
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/08/04/BAGENKB8LT1.DTL&type=printable
An Alameda County judge has given The Chronicle a partial victory in a lawsuit by ruling that a committee of the UC Board of Regents cannot decide behind closed doors whether to recommend pay packages for top officials...said the University of California's regent committees cannot make "a collective decision'' in closed session on possible future action to be taken concerning compensation matters. Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith ruled against The Chronicle, however, on other elements of the newspaper's lawsuit, which sought to force the regents' compensation committee to meet in public when it discusses pay for its top 20 officials...said discussion of compensation in closed meetings is legal under state law if no action is taken. She also declined to order UC to tape future meetings of its Committee on Finance and Special Committee on Compensation...also rejected The Chronicle's request that UC be compelled to divulge minutes and other records from previous committee meetings that dealt with compensation. Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill, AB775, that would require UC to open its compensation meetings. The bill -- opposed by UC officials -- passed the state Senate Education Committee, and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

City officials blast UC development proposal...Rick DelVecchio
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/08/04/BAG2AKB7KU1.DTL&type=printable
UC Berkeley's planning for a new sports and academic complex is flawed because it doesn't deal with the impact of a major disaster in a remote part of campus split by the Hayward Fault and fails to seriously look at alternatives... Cal's draft environmental impact report describing the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects should be redone because it lacks detail on the impact of the developments described in it and on possible alternatives, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said in a letter to campus planners. Despite the university's name for the plan, the projects aren't really integrated and are being presented in a way that's against the spirit of state law requiring detailed environmental review, Kamlarz said.

7-21-06
San Diego Union-Tribune
UC regents retroactively approve lucrative compensation packages … Eleanor Yang Su
http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060721/news_1n21uc.html
SAN FRANCISCO – University of California regents retroactively approved lucrative benefits and payouts yesterday to dozens of UC executives whose compensation had been criticized in recent months as being in violation of university policy.
In one instance, regents decided to not only retroactively approve but also continue a monthly payment to UC San Diego Medical School Dean Edward Holmes, whose case was highlighted in a state audit in May as problematic.
The state audit had found that Holmes had been overcompensated $128,649 since 2002 because he had received an extra $5,000 per month to offset money he paid to UC San Diego for earnings from his external board service.
UC policy requires certain health science employees who receive stock from corporate boards to provide a percentage of the value of the stock to the university. Even after Holmes fulfilled his percentage, UCSD continued to pay him the additional money per month, according to the audit.
Yesterday, regents defended their decision to continue paying Holmes and many others, stating that they are underpaid compared to their peers at other universities.
“What happened here was not that someone received money that they should not have received,” said Regent Judith Hopkinson. “What happened was there was money that was approved at a level that didn't include regent approval.”
Hopkinson added that in Holmes' case, he was promised that the extra income would be part of his permanent salary. His current annual salary is $453,400.
“He was entitled to it,” Hopkinson said. “It was the honorable thing to do because he was represented that this, in fact, was his new salary.”
Regents, however, have decided to seek repayment in at least two situations. Regents authorized the university to negotiate some repayment by UCSD Senior Vice Chancellor Marsha Chandler for an $8,916 auto allowance she inappropriately received while on sabbatical in the 2004-05 fiscal year. The allowance was paid in violation of UC policy, according to the regents item …

8-10-06
Merced Sun-Star
Sheriff's brother evaded DUI jail time...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12569265p-13279409c.html
When Sheriff Mark Pazin's brother showed up to court in March to be sentenced for a drunken- driving arrest last year, a judge told him he had to pay a fine and take a class. It turns out that despite a policy to almost always bring DUI offenders to jail -- or at least fingerprint and photograph them -- after they are arrested, Merced police decided to forego that procedure with Pazin, the Sun-Star has learned. Instead, police reports show, an officer called the sheriff on a December night and told him to pick up his intoxicated brother. Booking information would have been sent to the state Department of Justice, said David LaBahn, who heads the California District Attorney's Association. In this case, Richard Pazin's arrest file will be "incomplete" and without a photo and fingerprint -- leaving open the possibility that his 2005 DUI conviction could be challenged if he was caught driving drunk again, LaBahn said.

Maneuvers on measures reveal who pulls strings...John Michael Flint
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/story/12569317p-13279474c.html
Item 1 — Our Board of Supervisors recently made sure the "Stamp Out Sprawl" measure would not appear on the November ballot. The maneuver, though sleazy and cynical, was entirely legal — and it produced an outpouring of shock, outrage and criticism. What do the following have in common: Bruce Frohman, Denny Jackman, Balvino Irizarry, Carmen Sabatino? All faced opposition from candidates funded by real-estate developers. All were handily defeated
Item 2 — A week after derailing the sprawl measure, the supervisors voted to put the long-awaited road tax (Measure K) on the November ballot, and anyone who tells you this isn't a cost of growth is shining you on. It will be promoted relentlessly - by the Chamber of Commerce, the real-estate industry and this newspaper... Also answered, as if it weren't already obvious, will be the question of who really pulls the strings hereabouts.

Modesto Bee
Officials seeking help with growth...Tim Moran
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/12569320p-13279458c.html
Stanislaus County's mayors and county supervisors say they want to wrestle control of the county's future from big developers, but they need to hire someone to help them do that. The mayors and supervisors have been meeting to develop a blueprint for what the county should look like in 50 years — where it should and shouldn't grow and what kinds of public facilities will be needed to handle that growth. Supervisor Jim DeMartini said such plans need to protect farmland from developers. "The problem is, some developer comes in from out of town, options a bunch of land, and pressures the council to grow another way … They really only care about the land they control," DeMartini said. "We really need to work together."

Tracy Press
Bioterror...Eric Firpo
http://www.tracypress.com/local/2006-08-10-Bioterror.php
A bomb test site in the hills upwind of Tracy has made the “short list” of 18 spots where a research laboratory might be built to help protect against bioterrorism, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday. Homeland Security is looking for a spot to build a 500,000-square-foot research lab to replace a similar, but antiquated, laboratory at Plum Island in New York, which was built in the 1950s. The University of California asked to run the new lab at Site 300, 7,000 acres in the hills west of Tracy that’s part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Homeland Security said the UC has made the first cut, along with 17 other applicants in 11 states. Now that Site 300 has cleared its first hurdle, the anti-nuclear group Tri-Valley CAREs is launching an effort to prevent it from being built west of Tracy...group fears the new lab will research bioweapons, since it will have Level 3 and Level 4 labs...says a nuclear laboratory is no place for a biological laboratory because it sends a message that the lab will be used to develop offensive bioagents instead of trying to defend against them.

8-9-06
Merced Sun-Star
Director of university dining hall out of job...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12564634p-13275230c.html
UC Merced's director of dining and retail services has resigned following an investigation by UC auditors that determined he used university vehicles for personal business, purchased food for his private catering business using UC credit accounts and regularly took food from the university without payment. Prompted by a whistleblower complaint, the university began examining possible policy violations by Thomas Welton in April. Welton told investigators he was unaware of a university policy that prohibited personal use of university cars, used university credit accounts to purchase nearly $2,500 in merchandise, much of which he used for his private catering business, investigators found. Vendor records showed that Welton's wife -- who isn't employed at UC Merced -- signed for some of the purchases. While Welton eventually paid vendors for the purchases, he used university credit to delay personal payment, and only made the payments after the university's investigation began.

8-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
County violating sell-back policy...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12560598p-13271482c.html
An investigation that the Merced County Retirement Board launched last month to look into the legality of new perks given to the county's CEO has found something even more troubling: The county has been overpaying 25 retired employees -- mostly top-level managers and elected officials -- by thousands of dollars each year... inquiry found that the county has been violating the terms of a 2000 legal settlement -- known as the Ventura Agreement -- that limits the number of vacation hours county employees can "sell back" to boost their pensions. San Francisco attorney, Ashley Dunning said in an interview that the Ventura Agreement "could not be clearer" in limiting how many sold-back vacation hours can count toward pensions. Kathleen Crookham, who is the only supervisor who sits on the retirement board and voted to give Tatum the extra sell-back hours, said she also is OK with the retirement board's legal findings. "I guess if that's the legal opinion, you know what, I support it," she said.

8-12-06
Merced Sun-Star
Pension policy rips off taxpayers...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12579690p-1328813
...Merced County has decided to cut back the pensions of 25 retirees that were inflated by a complex vacation "sell-back" that boosted their final year's salary, which is used to calculate the pension payouts they earn every month for the rest of their lives. Instead of being able to sell back 240 hours upon retirement -- or even more for CEO Dee Tatum, who has a separate contract with the board -- the new limit will be 160 hours. But why stop there? We don't think county employees should be able to boost their retirements at all with this bogus vacation "sell-back," which is mandated by something called the "Ventura Agreement." It's the gift that keeps on giving -- all at taxpayer expense. And our local politicians wonder why voters turn down tax increase measures.
Sheriff wasn't involved...Michael H. Sofranek, Catheys Valley...2nd letter
I retired from the Merced County Sheriff's Department's Corrections Division. Knowing the system and knowing how the system works, I do believe the sheriff would not interfere with the process, but I do not believe that the sheriff was not aware that his brother slipped through the cracks in serving his jail time.
Sell-back hours ridiculous...Phil McDaniels, Merced...3rd letter
Let me see if I have this right: The county retirement board increases the sell-back vacation hours for the county CEO, Dee Tatum. Then, as the stink from this rises, the board decides to get a legal opinion and hire outside counsel...investigation shows... they've been committing a no-no since 2000. The first question...how much of an overpayment are we talking about and how does the board plan on getting it back? Secondly, couldn't some common sense be used next time and get a legal opinion first?

March 10, 2006
Badlandsjournal.com: Merced County Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and other members of the concerned public always wondered how developers in Merced County rode roughshod over local, state and federal environmental laws, regulations, agencies and its own public. But, rarely have they been granted the insight provided by this telephone message, recorded on Feb. 3, 2006.
Badlands has blocked out the last two numbers of the telephones the developer left for return calls from the supervisor he thought he’d called as a courtesy to the developer.
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! ...

Consult Badlandsjournal.com for a number of posts on government in Merced County, for example: Byrd sues on civil rights violations, July 28, 2006, which includes a brief filed in federal court against the county DA, the Sheriff and other county notables, and notes, including the news clips cited below:

7-15-06
Merced Sun-Star
Amid turmoil, Spencer quits…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12456073p-13175492c.html
After a tumultuous week that included a dramatic car crash, a concussion, calls from the Board of Supervisors to step down, and continuing criminal investigations by the state Attorney General’s Office, District Attorney Gordon Spencer said on Friday he will resign immediately. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said his agency will continue to investigate Spencer.

7-14-06
Merced Sun-Star
County workers get brush up on ethics…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12450025p-13170424c.html
Amid investigations by the state Attorney General’s Office and growing questions about government accountability, county officials got an earful from Graham and other ethics speakers this week. All county department heads and elected officials, as well as middle managers, were required to go to Graham’s session on Monday. Elected officials and top-level employees also had to go to a two-hour course Tuesday taught by a Sacramento law firm that reviewed accepted guidelines for government openness and accountability. But not everyone attended…four officials, including Spencer, didn’t go to Monday’s meeting… Spencer, who was in the hospital Tuesday after a car accident Monday, didn’t attend Tuesday’s session. The four no-shows Monday — Spencer, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan and County Counsel Ruben Castillo — must go to Graham’s Aug. 24 course for low-level managers if they want to keep their allowances. Morris said Kelsey had a family emergency and Pagan had a medical emergency Monday. He said he didn’t know why Spencer and Castillo didn’t attend. Supervisor Kathleen Crookham…felt Hedlund’s session was “dull,” she was glad to attend the ethics courses. “It reinforces the kind of things we should remember,” Crookham said.

Correction…Last Updated: July 14, 2006, 02:51:25 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12450026p-13170466c.html
• A headline on Page A1 of Thursday’s Sun-Star about District Attorney Gordon Spencer was incorrect. No representative from the hospital said Mr. Spencer suffered a head injury.

7-12-06
Merced Sun-Star
D.A. still in hospital…Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439963p-13161488c.html
The Merced County district attorney remained in the hospital Tuesday night with short-term memory loss after a rollover crash Monday night, his attorney said. The California Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation into the crash, though it doesn’t look like any charges or citations will be filed, Public Information Officer Shane Ferriera said. Spencer called his wife from Smith’s phone, and she took him to the hospital… The investigating officer interviewed Spencer at the hospital and tested him for driving under the influence…said the test includes looking for the smell of alcohol, slurred speech or red, watery eyes. Ferriera said he did not know if Spencer was given a breathalyzer test.

Panel may ask Spencer to resign from his post…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439964p-13161513c.html
Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said Tuesday that embattled District Attorney Gordon Spencer should resign immediately to help restore the District Attorney’s Office from months of “turmoil.” O’Banion told supervisors at their meeting Tuesday that he wants the board to vote sometime soon on whether Spencer should resign. He later said the vote will be at the supervisors’ next meeting on Tuesday. “I’m not going to take any action until we have the attorney general’s report,” Kelsey said…”I’m not going to let the newspaper tell me what to do and I’m not going to grandstand for the public or for the newspaper.” “We don’t have all the facts.” O’Banion brushed aside Kelsey’s accusations
…”I don’t look at it as grandstanding, I look at it as a responsibility we have to take back a department that is in turmoil.” Supervisor Mike Nelson…when asked if Spencer should resign, he replied. “It would be nice if he would do that, yeah.”

Police chief secrecy isn’t right way…Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439980p-13161532c.html
Plenty of mystery surrounds the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Kou Xiong, the Merced Police Department officer who was missing for two days before being located in the Madera County foothills. Now, after an internal affairs investigation by the police department, we’re told Xiong is no longer on the force. But that’s it as far as any official accounting of what may have taken place. The public deserves more of an explanation than that…police officials should divulge some reason for Xiong’s termination.

Letters to the editor:
Spencer should step down
…Mark Seivert, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439981p-13161523c.html
Editor: How many investigations need to be done on our district attorney from the state Attorney General’s Office before we demand he step down? I think three in one year should be more than enough for anyone.
Pazin’s actions a let-down…Phil McDaniels, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439957p-13161493c.html
Editor: With Gordon Spencer involved in Cellphonegate and SUVgate, it is not surprising to find him involved in yet another scheme as nefarious as the purchase of land of a jailed man. What is surprising is the behavior and attitude of one of his partners, the sheriff of Merced County… Sheriff Mark Pazin admits to knowing who the seller of the land was in the “final stages of the deal.” …the sheriff let the chase for big bucks place a cloud over his name and the office of sheriff of Merced County.

7-11-06
Merced Sun-Star
District Attorney Spencer injured in creek car crash…Scott Jason — Chris Collins; — Mike De La Cruz; — The Associated Press
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12435800p-13157709c.html
The Merced County district attorney was taken to the hospital Monday night after he rolled his Ford pickup truck into Bear Creek, a California Highway Patrol officer said. For unknown reasons, Spencer let the Ford F-150 pickup truck drift off the road and into the creek, he said. …CHP Web site said the victim in the crash had minor injuries.

7-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
Spencer purchased land from jailed man…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12425122p-13147572c.html
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the District Attorney’s Office. The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer’s potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry last December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator. The attorney general is now looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, and five other prominent locals purchased in 2004. The intersection of the two events created a clash that was “absolutely impermissible” by attorney ethics standards, said Weisberg, the Stanford law professor. “There was a conflict of interest. ” Dougherty, the county’s presiding judge, said Spencer never told Byrd’s attorney about his involvement in buying Byrd’s land. Kelsey said she always has been troubled that the sheriff and district attorney joined one of the county’s biggest developers to buy the land.

7-5-06
Merced Sun-Star
Tatum had a smorgasbord…Phil McDaniels, Merced…Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12409089p-13133720c.html
Editor: Many thanks to City Editor Mike Fitzgerald for putting in words how many voters feel about the Merced County Board of Supervisors and its constant giveaway of our money to the hierarchy of county government. For someone who flew low under the radar during the Gordon Spencer matter AND the department heads’ perks matter, County Executive Officer Dee Tatum surfaced long enough for another feast at the public trough. The board members have been in office too long and have lost sight of who they work for and who their decisions should benefit.

6-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
County supervisors clarify management policies…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12347503p-13077932c.html
Board of Supervisors approved sweeping changes on Tuesday to Merced County’s policies on car and phone allowances given to top-level employees…also set new ethics training requirements and accountability standards for elected officials and department managers. It was the first official action the supervisors have taken in response to District Attorney Gordon Spencer’s misuse of government equipment…county Auditor Stephen Jones said that the county’s attorney, Ruben Castillo, had advised him that a state law giving district attorneys and sheriffs the right to charge business expenses to the county may also give Spencer legal grounds for getting both a county phone and an allowance. The revised policy means:
• The 33 “A-level managers” in the county, which includes department heads, supervisors and other elected officials, must now sign a new form each year that says they will use their own car and phone for their jobs if they choose to receive monthly allowances as reimbursements.
• The state-mandated conflict-of-interest disclosure forms that county department heads and elected officials fill out each year will now be frequently audited by an outside firm.
• All department heads and elected officials must now attend an ethics training course once a year or lose out on their phone and car allowances.

6-15-06
Merced Sun-Star
Valley politicians report lands sales, wealth…Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12321524p-13054529c.html
WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley lawmakers are a diversified lot, especially when it comes to their personal finances. They own land, though not necessarily as much as they used to. They own stocks. Several have spouses pulling political salaries. Cardoza reported that, last October, he sold 6.2 acres in Atwater. The land at the intersection of Bellevue Road and Redwood Avenue brought the Cardoza & Cardoza Landholding Partnership between $500,001 and $1 million. Cardoza turned to stocks. He reported purchasing some 32 different stocks in November and December. Cardoza’s wife works as a physician in Merced.

Crookham is off the mark…Lorraine Dawson, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12321534p-13054545c.html
Editor: Some Merced County supervisors dismissed concerns that their allowances were excessive. Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she was frustrated that questions were being asked about her pay. “It’s really unfortunate when this kind of scrutiny takes place.” “And then it’s really unfortunate when no one wants to run for office because they come under that type of scrutiny.” “Does the rest of the world have to justify what they spend? No. This is a thankless job and one you don’t get rich on.” Mercedians have a right to know where the tax revenue is spent and why. Then there was this comment in a May 2 Sun-Star story: “Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she’s known for the past few months that (District Attorney Gordon) Spencer has been using a county vehicle while receiving a car allowance at the same time, but she said she doesn’t think it’s a serious violation.” Look no further than comments like these as to why Measure A was not passed.

6-13-06
Merced Sun-Star
OES faults Spencer over grant…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12312342p-13045915c.html
The state Office of Emergency Services says it will closely scrutinize Merced County’s use of grant funds in the future after a report it released Monday concluded that District Attorney Gordon Spencer violated the terms of an OES grant. State will monitor county closely but funds won’t have to be repaid. The report also found that the District Attorney’s Office misled OES when it said it would assign a full-time deputy district attorney to prosecuting people who committed rural crimes. The OES report found three other grant violations:… There is no set deadline for when the attorney general’s report will conclude.

Letters to the Editor…Last Updated: June 13, 2006, 01:52:58 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12312355p-13045923c.html
County wears blindfold…James V. Haslouer, Merced…1st letter
Editor: So let me see if I understand this correctly. If you are a county employee and you jeopardize a state- funded program for your own personal pocket stuffing and accept false cell phone and vehicle reimbursements (embezzlement), you can then use those monies to compute and enhance your retirement! …who was signing the vouchers that District Attorney Gordon Spencer was submitting for five years or perhaps even longer? Pay Spencer more than $150K a year for what? His disdain for the law is obvious.Supervisors, stand up for your constituents and do the right thing.

6-3-06
Merced Sun-Star

Spencer violated Grant…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12270485p-13006930c.html
District Attorney Gordon Spencer violated the terms of a grant by driving a $27,000 SUV that he was never supposed to use, a report by a private auditing firm has found…conducted by Sacramento-based Macias, Gini and Co. The SUV, a 2005 Ford Expedition, was purchased a year ago with money from a state grant and was intended for Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse. Instead, the vehicle was “assigned solely to the County’s District Attorney,” the report concluded…”could jeopardize eligibility of the vehicle” and future funding from the grant. “It basically reinforces the fact that the car was not supposed to be used by the individual who was using it,” county Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said. Last month, the state Attorney General’s Office launched an embezzlement investigation into Spencer’s use of county-owned equipment. The Office of Emergency Services is making its own inquiry into Spencer’s actions. Both investigations are ongoing.

July 16, 2006
http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=local&id=4372012
ABC Action News 30
Fire Damages Offices at Merced County Courthouse
July 16, 2006 - A scandal forced their boss to leave and now there's a new struggle for Merced County prosecutors after fire tore through their offices over the weekend.
Investigators will begin digging out the five offices on Monday, hoping to find out what started the fire. For now, they are breathing a sigh of relief after rescuing a very important case file from the burned building.
Once the smoke cleared, investigators and county leaders got a glimpse of the damage.
"The intensity of the fire was severe. It had buckled a lot of the metal, windows had been blown out, desks, chairs and such were absolutely melted to the ground," said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin.
Fire officials say the west portion of the building suffered the worst damage. Four district attorneys offices are ruined, two others damaged by smoke and water and two courtrooms unusable because of the intense heat.
"At the height of the firefight operations, we actually had flames I would estimate to 50 to 60 feet in the air above the building. Very major major operation," said Merced Fire Chief Ken Mitten.
The fire came just two days after District Attorney Gordon Spencer resigned in the middle of three separate investigations by the attorney general's office. His office was not in the building that caught fire and officials do not believe there is any relation between the two sudden events.
Incoming district attorney Larry Morse left the building just three and a half hours before the blaze began.
"I'm sure I was the last one to leave this building. It was close to 2:00am when I left. I didn't see anything remotely suspicious. I've been in the office until one or two for the last seven or eight days, as you are during trials," said Morse.
Morse says one of the files that burned in a felony office is the case against Tao Rivera. Police say he's the Merced gang member who gunned down police officer Stephan Grey. Luckily, Morse found a copy that was spared in his office. He has now moved it to a safe location.
He says many other criminal cases also went up in smoke, but he doesn't think any accusers are off the hook, because multiple copies are usually made on each case.
Despite the damaged courtrooms, court will go on as scheduled. Those cases set for the affected courtrooms will be moved to other buildings in the complex.
Fire damages are about $750,000

November 17, 2005
Modesto Bee
UC regents increase fees by 8 percent…Michelle Locke, AP
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11490731p-12229564c.html
Cost of going to university has going up 89% since ‘01. The vote came amid heightened criticism of the UC’s spending after reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that the UC has paid millions in bonuses and pay hikes to top executives. …students were not happy with the hikes, demonstrating their opposition by chanting “Education, not corporation!”

Merced Sun-Star
UC tuition fees going up again…Rosalio Ahumada
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11491100p-12229815c.html
Students will pay about $500 more per year. UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey said she knows some students are struggling with educational costs, but the fee increases are needed right now. “We certainly don’t want to exacerbate that,” Tomlinson-Keasey said of student financial woes. About 80 percent of UC Merced’s inaugural class applied for and received financial aid, and 64 percent of those students qualified for need-based financial assistance, according to campus records.

Sacramento Bee
Fifth fee hike since ‘02 gets UC regent OK…Leslie A. Maxwell
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/california/story/13870111p-14709573c.html
UC officials said the fee increases - part of a $2.9 billion budget that they will request from the Legislature for next year - were necessary to maintain their “compact” with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, argued for the board to hold off on the hikes until Schwarzenegger unveils his new state budget proposal in early January. Much of the audience also was angry about recent news reports that hundreds of UC’s senior-level employees received generous housing allowances, bonuses and other perks during a budget crunch.

San Francisco Chronicle
UC president promises increased disclosure about pay packages. Task force also will consider further policy changes…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/17/BAGVTFPO5L1.DTL&type=printable
After facing days of withering criticism, University of California leaders promised Wednesday to disclose more information about how much they pay employees. ” Dynes promised that UC would: … — Provide regents with a summary of UC leaders’ total compensation once a year, including outside income. Dynes said he wasn’t sure whether that information would be released to the public. There is a dark cloud over the university that we really have to reckon with, and it speaks to the question of transparency and honesty,” Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, an ex-officio regent, said. “There is a lot of outrage,” said Bruce Fuller, professor of public policy and education at UC Berkeley. “Is the quality of the university really tied to attracting managers, or is it tied to attracting top faculty?”

Zero hour for Los Alamos. UC has run the nation’s top weapons lab for six decades.
Will it all end this week?…Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/17/MNGQ9FPOD81.DTL&type=printable
Los Alamos National Lab…climax of a four-year saga: a decision that will determine who runs the world’s most glamorous and controversial nuclear weapons lab and that also could end the University of California’s unchallenged six-decade domination of the U.S. weapons program. An announcement could come soon, perhaps even Friday. UC and its industrial partners, including San Francisco-based Bechtel National Inc., are competing for the contract against aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. and its allies — the huge University of Texas system, several New Mexico universities and various industrial partners. Loss of the contract by UC would be a crushing blow to the university system’s reputation and, perhaps, to the state of California, which owes much of its international economic clout and attractiveness to investors’ perception of the state as the Nobel laureate-packed front line of scientific and technological advances. …the Lockheed-Texas team has benefited from continued leaks of bad news from Los Alamos. The latest case involved an “Occurrence Report,” which came to light late last month concerning an incident in October 2003…

UC regents boost next year’s student fees…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/17/BAGVTFPETK1.DTL&type=printable
Hours after the University of California Board of Regents voted Wednesday to impose steep fee increases on students, a regents’ committee recommended that hundreds of top university administrators get pay raises. The proposed “annual merit” salary increases, … average about 3 percent. “Even with this year’s merit increases, the salaries of many senior UC managers still significantly fall below market,” according to the statement. A recent study by Mercer Consulting found that UC offers lower salaries than other prestigious universities, though UC pay is comparable when retirement and other benefits are factored in. However, the Mercer study did not include all forms of compensation used by UC, leaving it unclear whether UC employees are paid better or worse than the average pay of their counterparts elsewhere. …Wednesday, the regents disregarded assurances from state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez that the Legislature would likely allocate enough money to make the higher fees unnecessary

November 16, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle
Outrage in Capitol at UC pay revelations…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/16/BAG1RFP4R61.DTL&type=printable
State lawmakers demanded Tuesday that University of California leaders answer questions about UC’s growing payroll, hidden compensation and a rising inequity between low-paid employees and senior administrators and faculty. Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, “I’m not going to allow UC to become the Wal-Mart of education. The university’s money is public money. They have to be very careful. Before we do anything more with salaries, we have to have transparency.” “This is outrageous,” Denham said. “While students face rate increases every year and UC rank and file workers face salary freezes, the top UC administrators will be getting secret salary hikes. The regents should postpone their vote and let the public see the documents.”

UC’s hidden pay…Editorial
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/16/EDGODFOD701.DTL&type=printable
FOR AN institution devoted to openness and truth, the University of California is falling short. It refuses to speak plainly about the eye-popping compensation packages for its top leaders. The timing for the new salary increases couldn’t be worse. …regents are due to vote on a plan to raise student fees by 8 percent. …after fees have nearly doubled in four years. UC must explain its compensation policies more fully. It isn’t showing the openness that taxpayers expect and deserve from a public university.

Fresno Bee
UC gets $8 million to study San Joaquin Valley’s bad air…AP
http://www.fresnobee.com/state_wire/v-printerfriendly/story/11479672p-12219067c.html
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - The University of California, Davis, will receive an $8 million federal grant to study the effects of one of the country’s most polluted air basins on public health.

11-14-05
San Francisco Chronicle…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable
The University of California may have cut student services and maintenance, but not the number of high-paid jobs created over the past two years.

Merced Sun-Star
Famers say UC helps rivals too…Olivia Munoz, AP
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/business/ag/story/11478748p-12218475c.html
UC President Robert C. Dynes met with about 35 growers… San Joaquin Valley growers expressed frustration Thursday that research they help the University of California conduct ends up helping their rivals in the global agriculture market. …also concerned that the system’s budget cuts were affecting the extension office program.

San Francisco Chronicle
Free mansions for people of means…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO0JJ1.DTL&type=printable
For all the attention paid to university salaries, some of the biggest perks at the university are noncash items, such as free housing. At UC, the system spends about $1 million a year to maintain spacious homes for Dynes and the 10 campus chancellors. I think taxpayers would be outraged to discover the nature of this extraordinary perk,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association. Schwartz…said the homes are important to help chancellors cover the high cost of living in California, where many chancellors otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford homes on their university salaries. Public records show that many of the chancellors already own their homes, sometimes close to campus. And at least two chancellors earned tens of thousands of dollars in extra annual income by moving into university-owned residences and renting out their own nearby homes. In addition, records show hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on maintaining some of the estates.. “I suspect this will make it in our 2005 piglet book” of examples of government waste, Coupal said. “This is the kind of stuff that shows that at some point (government leaders sometimes) lose touch with reality.”

Services cut for students as high-pay jobs boom…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable
The University of California may have cut student services and maintenance, but not the number of high-paid jobs created over the past two years. Payroll records show that 2,275 university employees earned more than $200,000 last fiscal year, up 30 percent over two years. The number of employees making at least $300,000 annually climbed 54 percent to 496 last year. Some employees got raises. Others were hired or promoted to new posts with increased salaries. Still, the boom in top salaries comes at a time when UC leaders say they have been forced to raise student fees 79 percent over four years, increase class sizes and curtail student services to cope with cuts in state funding. “This is not something you want the Legislature to learn about,” said Velma Montoya, who served on the UC Board of Regents for 11 years until her term ended in January. “It is unfair and impolitic.”

The home used by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. Chronicle photo by Mark Costantini
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?m=/c/pictures/2005/11/14/mn_a9_uc00_156_mc.jpg&f=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable

More higher-paid employees on UC payroll
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?m=/c/pictures/2005/11/14/mn_higher_paid.jpg&f=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable

Monterey Herald
The teacher pay UC doesn’t discuss…System shells out millions while claiming poverty…San Francisco Chronicle
http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/news/state/13163302.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Despite complaints from University of California officials that the system has suffered severe cuts in state funding, prompting tuition and fee increases, many faculty members and administrators get paid thousands more than is publicly reported. ‘’We should be comparing full compensation, including the perks, not just the salary, because when you look across the country, you shouldn’t be comparing apples to oranges,'’ said Velma Montoya, an economist who served on the UC Board of Regents for 11 years until her term ended in January. ‘’It’s ludicrous to increase student fees… when you’re talking about executive officers making this much money, and no one knowing about it,'’ said Anu Joshi, a UC Berkeley graduate student and president of the systemwide UC Student Association.

11-13-05
UC’s higher profile…Editorial
http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/11476112p-12215740c.html
The recent visit to Fresno by the president of the University of California underscores how the landscape has changed in higher education for Valley students in just a few years. For decades, the Valley was given short shrift by UC. Higher education was left in the hands of California State University campuses, such as Fresno State. Now UC Merced has opened, creating a new opportunity for Valley students. …the UC system is working much harder to spread the word about UC among Valley students and their families. That’s what brought UC President Robert Dynes to Fresno on Thursday…

San Francisco Chronicle
UC piling extra cash on top of pay…Tanya Schevitz, Tod Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGHFFNMAC1.DTL&type=printable
Despite UC’s complaints that it has been squeezed by cuts in state funding and forced to raise student fees, many university faculty members and administrators get paid far more than is publicly reported. In addition to salaries and overtime, payroll records obtained by The Chronicle show that employees received a total of $871 million in bonuses, administrative stipends, relocation packages and other forms of cash compensation last fiscal year. That was more than enough to cover the 79 percent hike in student fees that UC has imposed over the past few years. The bulk of the last year’s extra compensation, roughly $599 million, went to more than 8,500 employees who each got at least $20,000 over their regular salaries. And that doesn’t include an impressive array of other perks for selected top administrators, ranging from free housing to concert tickets.

Bringing in the big bucks
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?m=/c/pictures/2005/11/13/mn_big_bucks.jpg&f=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGHFFNMAC1.DTL&type=printable
Here are UC’s highest-paid employees based ontotal compensation. Base salary is a small fraction of their total pay.

Overall payroll
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?f=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGHFFNMAC1.DTL&o=1&type=printable
Over the last few years there has been an increase in the UC’s payroll…2002 – 2005

Other perks include parties, gifts, travel…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGQPFJ9DJ26.DTL&type=printable
In addition to their cash compensation, many senior UC employees receive significant fringe benefits. A partial list includes:
– Housing: Some employees receive free or subsidized housing near campus, including spacious homes (and in some cases, mansions) reserved for chancellors. UC also issued thousands of low-interest mortgages to administrators and faculty…3 percent interest rate. — Jobs: — Entertainment: Gifts:– Travel: Parties: Expensive parties are common.
Patrick Callan, president of the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education…”This is not a slush fund,'’ Callan said. “Every dollar that the university gets is public. It is a public institution. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

Livermore Lab’s future tied to risky laser project…Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNG1AFNKRE1.DTL&type=printable
The fate of a super-laser — a multibillion-dollar project under construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is in serious doubt, despite Congress’ decision to grant it a reprieve. …eight years after the facility’s groundbreaking at Livermore lab, the project has cost taxpayers more than $3 billion, at least three times the projected cost, and the tab should exceed $4 billion between now and the projected completion in 2009-2010. Meanwhile, only a small percentage of the projected 192 lasers have been installed and tested. Worst of all, there is serious scientific doubt whether the laser will achieve its near-mythic goal: ignition, the holy grail of nuclear physics. ..recent study by top Pentagon advisory panel cites many technical obstacles and says there’s no assurance the project will work. The group, known as “Jason,” pointed out in a recent report that the project is rife with technical problems. This is an embarrassment that UC can ill afford at a time when federal officials are close to making a crucial decision on another one of the university system’s vital relationships with the Department of Energy.

11-12-05
Fundraiser helps MC students get to UC…Rosalio Ahumada
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11472660p-12212399c.html
With the rising cost to earn a bachelor’s degree, students need scholarship support more than ever. The Merced College Foundation wants to make sure its transferring students have all the help they can get to attend the newest University of California campus. Currently, full-time equivalent Merced College students pay a total of about $800 per school year including campus fees. UC Merced undergraduate students pay about $7,000 in tuition per school year. But that doesn’t include housing costs that range from $14,000 to $20,000 annually.

Anxiety marks Los Alamos mood ahead of lab contract announcement…Heather Clark, AP
http://www.modbee.com/state_wire/story/11472441p-12212115c.html
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) - Many people in this isolated mesa-top community are anxious or fearful about who will win a contract to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory. The main contenders for the contract are two limited liability corporations, one headed by Lockheed Martin and the University of Texas and the other led by Bechtel Corp. and the University of California… …contract worth up to $79 million. The announcement of the winner is expected by Dec. 1. Six percent of the lab’s work force resigned, up from a 4 percent annual norm over the last decade. …poor business practices at the lab led to a purchasing scandal and a series of embarrassing security and safety lapses that culminated in a seven-month shutdown, which the Department of Energy estimated cost about $367 million. UC put the cost at $110 million.

7-3-06
Contra Costa Times
A feeling of 'siege'...Julia Prodis Sulek
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/14952474.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Sixteen months ago, when Denton started as chancellor, she seemed like a perfect fit. If any community would welcome this openly gay academic who overcame discrimination from her earliest days in a small Texas town, who became nationally renowned for her commitment to women in science and social justice, surely it would be the progressive seaside town of Santa Cruz. Instead, she told friends, ``I'm under constant siege.'' She arrived at the university already trailed by controversy and, during her short tenure, endured unrelenting attacks. ``It wasn't any single story or any single cartoon, but it was a continuing, rolling, unending set of stories and set of cartoons; it was the continuing everyday assault,'' said Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the chancellor of UC-Merced. When a new chancellor arrives in Santa Cruz, the community very nearly holds its breath. In this city of 55,000, the chancellor carries more prestige than the mayor or state legislators. But just weeks before her Feb. 14, 2005, start date, Denton's name was linked with scandal. The timing couldn't have been worse. While the UC president's office acknowledged it should have disclosed the deal from the start, it was Denton who took the heat in Santa Cruz. If Denton had more serious mental health issues, or her medication wasn't right, or she had other personal problems, no one is saying. But Tomlinson-Keasey knows that the problems in Santa Cruz weighed heavily.

8-2-06
Sacramento Bee
Tragedy looms over wildland debate...David Whitney, Bee Washington Bureau
http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/14285230p-15098739c.htmlhttp://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/v-print/story/14285230p-15098739c.html
WASHINGTON -- Nearly 15 months after the manager of the Carrizo Plain National Monument killed herself after months of frustration on the job, the federal Bureau of Land Management is reviving the process of creating a management plan for the 250,000-acre grasslands preserve that will be forever associated with Marlene Braun's tragic death. The backdrop for the battles was more political than personal. Created by presidential proclamation just hours before President Clinton left office in 2001, the Carrizo Plain had become a battleground over cattle grazing on public lands -- an issue on which the BLM typically found itself siding with cattlemen. ... public lands, on the border between Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, are the last big patch of wild grasslands left in California and the home of the largest concentration of endangered species in the state. Some, like the giant kangaroo rat, are in direct competition with cattle. Braun had openly complained that she felt efforts to curtail grazing were being resisted at higher pay grades in the agency, and that she was suffering the fallout. Posthumously, Braun prevailed.

4-1-05

CRS Report for Congress: California’s San Joaquin Valley: A Region in Transition, Dec. 12, 2005, Tadlock Cowan, Coordinator, Analyst in Rural and Regional Development Policy, Resources, Science and Industry Division

Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process, Brooks Jackson, 1990

“This is the tragic story of one of the most fascinating characters in recent Washington history, Congressman Tony Coelho of California (D-Merced) … He rose to power in the house by collecting millions of political dollars for the Democratic party from whatever sources were at hand, creating a modern political machine in which money and pork-barrel legislation replaced the old Tammany Hall patronage …” p. 3

As Coelho himself says, “the system buys you out.” The system doesn’t require bad motives to produce bad government. P. 320

Italics added.

| »

Byrd sues on civil rights violations

Submitted: Jul 28, 2006

Richard Byrd, who in 2004 sold a piece of property to the sheriff who was incarcerating him and the district attorney who was prosecuting him, recently filed a federal suit against the Atwater policeman who arrested and charged him, the sheriff, the DA, their real estate partners (which included Greg Hostetler, owner of Ranchwood Homes), his former attorney and Salvadori Realty for damages arising from violations of the federal civil rights and labor codes.

Below you will find Byrd's complaint to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California and a collection of newspaper clippings on events surrounding this case.
___________________

COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES,

DECLARATORY RELIEF AND RESCISSION

KEVIN G. LITTLE, SBN 149818

ATTORNEY AT LAW

2115 Kern Street, Suite 330

Fresno, California 93721

Telephone: (559) 486-5730

Telecopy: (559) 486-4759

E-mail: fwllaw@aol.com

Attorney for Plaintiff Richard Byrd

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

***

RICHARD BYRD,

Plaintiff,

v.

ATWATER RESERVE OFFICER

MICHAEL TEATER; GORDON SPENCER,

FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR

THE COUNTY OF MERCED; MARK

PAZIN, SHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF

MERCED; STEPHEN MAUZY; CENTURY

21 SALVADORI REALTY; CARL

CAMPODONICA; WILLIAM AND LILLIAN

CAMPODONICA TRUST; JOHN JULIUS;

GARTH PECCHENINO; DAVID

GRESHAM; HOSTETLER

INVESTMENTS, LLC; BELLEVUE ROAD

PARTNERS, LLC; C. LOGAN

McKECHNIE, SBN 77393, THE COUNTY

OF MERCED, CALIFORNIA; THE CITY

OF ATWATER, CALIFORNIA, DOES 1-10,

Defendants.

No.

COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES,

DECLARATORY RELIEF, AND

RESCISSION

42 U.S.C. § 1983

28 U.S.C. § 2201

ACTUAL AND CONSTRUCTIVE FRAUD

NEGLIGENT MISREPRESENTATION

BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY

BREACH OF THE COVENANT OF GOOD FAITH

BREACH OF CONTRACT

NEGLIGENCE

INTERFERENCE W ITH ECONOMIC ADVANTAGE

ABUSE OF PROCESS

RESCISSION

JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

TO THE HONORABLE COURT:

Plaintiff Richard Byrd, through his undersigned counsel, hereby makes the following

allegations against the defendants, and each of them:

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JURISDICTION AND VENUE

1. This Court has original jurisdiction over this proceeding pursuant to 28 U.S.C.

§§ 1331 and 1343, as this action is one for damages arising under federal civil rights and labor

law. This Court has jurisdiction over the claim for declaratory relief under the Declaratory

Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201. This Court also has jurisdiction over the supplemental

California law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

2. This Court has venue in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), as the

occurrences giving rise to this action all occurred within this judicial district.

PARTIES

3. At all relevant times, plaintiff Richard Byrd (“Byrd”) was a citizen and resident of

the State of California, County of Merced. Byrd has had a lengthy and honorable career in

military service and in law enforcement, including having served as the Chief of Police at

Merced College. Byrd has also had success as a property owner and principal of an

investigations and security firm. Prior to his wife’s untimely death in August 2003, and his

subsequent descent into alcoholism, Byrd had no criminal record, and, even after August

2003, Byrd’s few legitimate arrests related only to his driving while intoxicated. Byrd’s only

conviction stems from his false arrest on March 11, 2004, and that arrest is being expunged

based on the misconduct set forth herein.

4. Defendant Atwater Reserve Officer Michael Teater (“Teater”) is a level II reserve

officer with the Atwater Police Department and is a citizen and resident of the State of

California, County of Merced. Teater’s lengthy criminal history and history of dishonesty

should have disqualified him from ever representing a law enforcement agency. Teater was

the law enforcement officer responsible for concocting the alleged offense for which Byrd was

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arrested on March 11, 2004, as well as entrapping Byrd’s alleged involvement in said offense.

With respect to all actions described herein, Teater was acting under color of law and within

the course and scope of his duties. Teater is sued in his individual capacity for purposes of

monetary damages, and in his official capacity for purposes of the declaratory and ancillary

relief requested herein.

5. Defendant Gordon Spencer (“Spencer”), former District Attorney for the County

of Merced, is a citizen and resident of the State of California, County of Merced. Spencer

pursued and manipulated the criminal charges instituted in March 2004 against Byrd for his

own economic gain as one of the purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property. Spencer also was

one of the officials primarily responsible for keeping Byrd in custody while the illegitimate

purchase was finalized. With respect to all actions described herein, Spencer was acting

under color of law and within the course and scope of his duties. Spencer is sued in his

individual capacity for purposes of monetary damages, and in his official capacity for purposes

of the declaratory and ancillary relief requested herein.

6. Defendant Mark Pazin (“Pazin”), Sheriff of the County of Merced, is a citizen and

resident of the State of California, County of Merced. Pazin investigated, pursued and

manipulated the criminal charges instituted in March 2004 against Byrd for his own economic

gain as one of the purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property. Pazin also was one of the officials

primarily responsible for keeping Byrd in custody while the illegitimate purchase was finalized.

With respect to all actions described herein, Spencer was acting under color of law and within

the course and scope of his duties. Spencer is sued in his individual capacity for purposes of

monetary damages, and in his official capacity for purposes of the declaratory and ancillary

relief requested herein.

7. Defendant Stephen Mauzy (“Mauzy”) is a citizen and resident of the County of

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Merced. Mauzy is a realtor who works under the auspices of Century 21 Salvadori Realty.

Mauzy was purportedly the representative of Byrd with respect to the sale of his lucrative

property, but, as set forth herein, Mauzy violated his legal and contractual duties and

fraudulently induced the sale of Byrd’s property for approximately 20 percent of its actual value

to a group of purchasers that included himself, Spencer, Pazin and others named herein.

Mauzy is liable under state and federal law for his own actions and the acts of his employees,

representatives, agents or assigns, as alleged herein. Mauzy is also liable under federal law

based on the joint activity and/or conspiracy he engaged in, either himself or through his

employees, representatives, agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color of law and

within the course and scope of their duties. Mauzy is liable for the monetary damages,

declaratory and ancillary relief requested herein.

8. Defendant Century 21 Salvadori Realty (“Salvadori Realty”) is a real estate firm

doing business in the County of Merced, California. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that

Salvadori Realty is either a business entity, or the dba of such an entity, doing business in the

State of California. Salvadori Realty was supposed to be the firm representing Byrd with

respect to the sale of his lucrative property, but, as set forth herein, Salvadori Realty violated

its legal and contractual duties and fraudulently inducing the sale of Byrd’s property for

approximately 20 percent of its actual value to a group of purchasers that included Mauzy,

Spencer, Pazin and others named herein. Salvadori Realty is liable under state law for the

acts of its employees, representatives, agents or assigns, as alleged herein. Salvadori Realty

is also liable under federal law based on the joint activity and/or conspiracy it engaged in,

through its employees, representatives, agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color

of law and within the course and scope of their duties. Salvadori Realty is liable for the

monetary damages, declaratory and ancillary relief requested herein.

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9. Defendant Carl Campodonica (“Campadonica”), representative of the William

and Lillian Campodonica Trust, is a citizen and resident of the County of Merced.

Campodonica was one of the illegitimate purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property that

benefitted from the wrongful and fraudulent acts of the co-purchasers of that property,

including Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, and others named herein. Campodonica is liable under

state and federal law for his own actions and the acts of his employees, representatives,

agents or assigns, as alleged herein. Campodonica is also liable under federal law based on

the joint activity and/or conspiracy he engaged in, either himself or through his employees,

representatives, agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color of law and within the

course and scope of their duties. Campodonica is liable for the monetary damages,

declaratory and ancillary relief requested herein.

10. Defendant the Lillian and John Campodonica Trust (“the Campodonica Trust”)

is a legal entity base din Merced County that is subject to suit under federal and California law.

The Campodonica Trust was one of the illegitimate purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property that

benefitted from the wrongful and fraudulent acts of the co-purchasers of that property,

including Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, and others named herein. The Campodonica Trust is liable

under state and federal law for his own actions and the acts of his employees, representatives,

agents or assigns, as alleged herein. The Campodonica Trust is also liable under federal law

based on the joint activity and/or conspiracy he engaged in, either himself or through his

employees, representatives, agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color of law and

within the course and scope of their duties. The Campodonica Trust is liable for the monetary

damages, declaratory and ancillary relief requested herein.

11. Defendant John Julius (“Julius”) is a citizen and resident of the County of

Merced. Julius was one of the illegitimate purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property that

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benefitted from the wrongful and fraudulent acts of the co-purchasers of that property,

including Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, and others named herein. Julius is liable under state and

federal law for his own actions and the acts of his employees, representatives, agents or

assigns, as alleged herein. Julius is also liable under federal law based on the joint activity

and/or conspiracy he engaged in, either himself or through his employees, representatives,

agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color of law and within the course and scope

of their duties. Julius is liable for the monetary damages, declaratory and ancillary relief

requested herein.

12. Defendant Garth Pecchenino (“Pecchenino”) is a citizen and resident of the

County of Merced. Pecchenino was one of the illegitimate purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative

property that benefitted from the wrongful and fraudulent acts of the co-purchasers of that

property, including Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, and others named herein. Pecchenino is liable

under state and federal law for his own actions and the acts of his employees, representatives,

agents or assigns, as alleged herein. Pecchenino is also liable under federal law based on

the joint activity and/or conspiracy he engaged in, either himself or through his employees,

representatives, agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color of law and within the

course and scope of their duties. Pecchenino is liable for the monetary damages, declaratory

and ancillary relief requested herein.

13. Defendant David Gresham (“Gresham”) is a citizen and resident of the County

of Merced. Gresham was one of the illegitimate purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property that

benefitted from the wrongful and fraudulent acts of the co-purchasers of that property,

including Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, and others named herein. Gresham is liable under state

and federal law for his own actions and the acts of his employees, representatives, agents or

assigns, as alleged herein. Gresham is also liable under federal law based on the joint activity

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and/or conspiracy he engaged in, either himself or through his employees, representatives,

agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color of law and within the course and scope

of their duties. Gresham is liable for the monetary damages, declaratory and ancillary relief

requested herein.

14. Defendant Hostetler Investments, LLC (“Hostetler Investments”) is a real estate

development firm doing business in the County of Merced, California. Plaintiffs are informed

and believe that Hostetler Investments is either a business entity, or the dba of such an entity,

doing business in the State of California. Hostetler Investments was one of the illegitimate

purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property that benefitted from the wrongful and fraudulent acts

of the co-purchasers of that property, including Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, and others named

herein. Hostetler Investments is liable under state and federal law for his own actions and the

acts of his employees, representatives, agents or assigns, as alleged herein. Hostetler

Investments is also liable under federal law based on the joint activity and/or conspiracy he

engaged in, either himself or through his employees, representatives, agents or assigns, with

individuals acting under color of law and within the course and scope of their duties. Hostetler

Investments is liable for the monetary damages, declaratory and ancillary relief requested

herein.

15. Defendant Bellevue Road Partners, LLC (“Bellevue”) is a real estate

development firm doing business in the County of Merced, California. Plaintiffs are informed

and believe that Bellevue is either a business entity, or the dba of such an entity, doing

business in the State of California. Bellevue is the successor in interest of the illegitimate

purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property that benefitted from the wrongful and fraudulent acts

of the co-purchasers of that property, including Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, and others named

herein, and is therefore not a bonafide purchaser of said property. Bellevue is liable under

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state and federal law for his own actions and the acts of his employees, representatives,

agents or assigns, as alleged herein. Bellevue is also liable under federal law based on the

joint activity and/or conspiracy he engaged in, either himself or through his employees,

representatives, agents or assigns, with individuals acting under color of law and within the

course and scope of their duties. Bellevue is liable for the monetary damages, declaratory and

ancillary relief requested herein.

16. Defendant C. Logan McKechnie, SBN 77393 (“McKechnie”) is an attorney

licensed to practice in the State of California and is a citizen and resident of the County fo

Merced. McKechnie was Byrd’s attorney for purposes of the criminal proceedings set forth

herein. McKechnie, despite being on actual and/or constructive notice of the false charges

against Byrd, the entrapment, Teater’s criminal history and history of dishonesty, the identities

of the prospective purchasers of Byrd’s lucrative property, and other facts that cried out for his

zealous advocacy, did nothing to assist Byrd in being exonerated or released from custody

earlier than her was. McKechnie is liable under state and federal law for his own actions and

the acts of his employees, representatives, agents or assigns, as alleged herein. McKechnie

is also liable under federal law based on the joint activity and/or conspiracy he engaged in,

either himself or through his employees, representatives, agents or assigns, with individuals

acting under color of law and within the course and scope of their duties. McKechnie is liable

for the monetary damages, declaratory and ancillary relief requested herein.

17. Defendant the County of Merced, California (“Merced County”) is a political

subdivision of the State of California. Merced County is the primary funding body of the Office

of the District Attorney for Merced County and the Merced County Sheriff’s Office. Merced

County’s liability for the monetary damages sought in this action is based on its customs and

policies, which gave rise to the federal causes of action alleged herein. As permitted by

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applicable law, these customs and policies will be detailed at a later point in this proceeding.

Merced County also has responsibility under applicable law for the declaratory and ancillary

relief requested by plaintiff herein.

18. Defendant the City of Atwater, California (“Atwater”) is a political subdivision of

the State of California. Atwater is the primary funding body of the Atwater Police Department.

Atwater’s liability for the monetary damages sought in this action is based on its customs and

policies, which gave rise to the federal causes of action alleged herein. As permitted by

applicable law, these customs and policies will be detailed at a later point in this proceeding.

Atwater also has responsibility under applicable law for the declaratory and ancillary relief

requested by plaintiff herein.

19. The fictitious defendants, sued herein as Does 1-10 (sometimes collectively

referred to as “the fictitious defendants”), are individuals and/or business entities who are

liable under the federal and/or state laws invoked herein. The fictitious defendants are liable

for the monetary damages, declaratory and ancillary relief requested herein. The fictitious

defendants will be renamed once their actual identities are ascertained.

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

20. On March 11, 2004 Byrd was arrested by the Merced County Sheriff’s

Department based on an offense concocted by Teater, who owed Byrd money, was

manipulating and taking advantage of the oft-intoxicated Byrd, and had longstanding animosity

against him. The alleged offense was Byrd’s supposed effort to get Teater to provide the

identity and address information of the Merced County Sheriff’s Deputy who arrested him for

driving under the influence on November 21, 2003. Byrd, a highly trained, experienced former

law enforcement officer and owner or a private investigation and security company, at all times

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had independent means to obtain this information if he had desired it, but made no efforts to

obtain it. Teater also entrapped Byrd with respect to the alleged offense over the span of

approximately three months, during which time he would attempt to encourage and bait the

intoxicated Byrd into paying him to obtain said information. When these efforts were

unsuccessful, Teater proceeded to concoct said allegations and report them to the Merced

County Sheriff’s Office.

21. On March 15, 2004, Byrd was charged with bribing Teater, in violation of Penal

Code § 67, and, with respect to his November 21, 2003 arrest, to carrying a loaded firearm,

although Byrd was legally authorized to do the latter. Even though Byrd had no prior criminal

history, the District Attorney’s Office, at Spencer’s and Pazin’s direction, sought and obtained

a $500,000 bail for these charges.

22. In order to pay for his legal representation, newly built home, ongoing business

expenses, and other short term expenses, Byrd found it necessary to sell his 21 acre ranch

property while he was in custody. Byrd’s daughter, Linda Roybal, who was unsophisticated

in such matters, sought the assistance of Mauzy and Salvadori Realty, in selling said property.

23. Mauzy and Salvadori Realty never advised Roybal or Byrd of the actual value

of the ranch property, which, according to reasonable valuations, was worth more than

$6,000,000 at the time. Instead, Mauzy told Roybal and Byrd that this property was worth

considerably less and falsely indicated that a nearby property of similar size had sold for

$700,000. Mauzy also communicated an alleged offer of $1,400,000 for the property, which

subsequently “fell through,” as corroboration for his false valuation of the property.

24. At the same time he was misrepresenting the value of Byrd’s property to Roybal

and Byrd, Mauzy was himself among a group of purchasers, consisting of Spencer, Pazin,

Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius, Campodonica, as representative of the Campodonica Trust,

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and Hostetler Investments. It was well known to all of the purchasers, based on the highly

publicized nature of Byrd’s criminal case, Spencer’s and Pazin’s involvement therein, and the

amount of their offer in light of their sophistication, that this proposed purchase represented

a highly improper and illegal endeavor.

25. On May 6, 2004, Byrd pled no contest to a reduced charge of obstructing an

executive officer, Teater, in violation of Penal Code § 69. The conditions of the plea were that

the remaining charges would be dismissed, that Byrd would receive three years felony

probation, six months in county jail, and voluntarily enroll in a residential alcohol treatment

program. At the time this plea was being negotiated, Byrd’s property was already for sale, and

the illegitimate purchase by Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius,

Campodonica, as representative of the Campodonica Trust, and Hostetler Investments was

already contemplated. It was known that Byrd would remain in custody throughout the time

of the consummation and finalization of the purchase under the proposed terms of the plea

bargain, and that his continuing in custody status was what in large part necessitated his sale

of the property. It was also known to Spencer and Pazin, based on incidents occurring relating

to Byrd while he was in jail, that he continued drinking and was thus under the effects of his

sever alcoholism.

26. During this same time period, all of the above facts where known or

ascertainable to McKechnie, who did nothing to seek Byrd’s exoneration, earlier release or the

protection of his property rights through his criminal case. No did McKechnie seek to

investigate or develop a defense to the underlying charge based on Teater’s history of

dishonesty, criminal record, the disappearance of crucial evidence, Byrd’s voluntary

intoxication, or any other factor.

27. On or about May 18, 2004, and agreement was reached between Byrd and the

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purchasers, Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius, Campodonica, as

representative of the Campodonica Trust, and Hostetler Investments, to purchase the property

for $1,300,000, about 20 percent of the actual value of the property. This sale closed escrow

and was recorded on July 1, 2004, two weeks before Byrd’s July 16, 2004 sentencing in the

criminal case. The sale resulted in Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius,

Campodonica, as representative of the Campodonica Trust, and Hostetler Investments

becoming owners of the property, and Salvadori Realty’s collecting a $78.000 commission.

Even after Byrd’s May 6, 2004 plea to the lesser charge under Penal Code § 69, no motion

was made by either the prosecution or the defense to reduce his $500,000 bail, which would

have enabled him to attend to and stabilize his economic situation prior to returning to custody

and which would have eliminated the necessity for him to sale his lucrative property.

28. On July 16, 2004, Byrd was sentenced and received time served. He was

required to immediately enroll in a residential alcohol treatment program that kept him

effectively custody for another two months, until September 2004. Indeed, Byrd had highly

restricted use of communication services during his time in the alcohol treatment program.

Only after Byrd was out of custody and in control of his alcoholism, was he gradually able to

ascertain and understand the implications of the foregoing. Byrd has also ascertained that

some or all of the interest in the property purchased by Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, Pecchenino,

Gresham, Julius, Campodonica, as representative of the Campodonica Trust, and Hostetler

Investments has been illegitimately transferred to Bellevue. Also, Byrd has since exposed and

the false nature of the criminal charges made against him and seeks further relief in this

proceeding. Byrd has already served his entire sentence and has no remedy through a writ

of habeas corpus, thus entitling him to pursue his further exoneration in this proceeding.

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29. Byrd’s damages as a result fo the foregoing are monumental. Byrd has

sustained loss of liberty for six months, expenses incurred in fighting an illegitimate criminal

case, loss of his profitable business as a result of his false arrest, malicious prosecution and

having to stay in custody for the length of time her did, loss of his reputation, loss of a property

worth more than $6,000,000, as well as other general damages.

FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS CLAIMS

30. The following defendants are liable to Byrd for compensatory damages under

federal law, specifically, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) Teater, for false arrest and malicious

prosecution, in violation of Byrd’s rights under the Fourth Amendment; (2) Spencer and Pazin,

for abuse of process, manipulation of the criminal proceedings, and conspiracy to violate

Byrd’s due process rights and deprive him of his property rights, in violation of the Fourth,

Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) Mauzy, Salvadori Realty, Spencer, Pazin,

Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius, Campodonica, the Campodonica Trust, Hostetler Investments,

and Bellevue, for joint and/or conspiratorial activity with state actors that constituted abuse

of process, manipulation of the criminal proceedings, and conspiracy to violate Byrd’s due

process rights and deprive him of his property rights, in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and

Fourteenth Amendments; (4) Atwater, for having a de facto custom and policy of failing to

terminate, supervise and/or discipline Teater, which was the moving force behind Teater’s

constitutional violations stated hereinabove; (5) Merced County, for failing to terminate,

supervise, and/or discipline Spencer and Pazin, which was the moving force behind all but one

of the constitutional violations set forth hereinabove; and (6) Merced County, based on the

actions of their appointed policymakers, Spencer and Pazin, which were the moving forces

behind all but one of the constitutional violations set forth hereinabove.

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31. As a direct and proximate result of the defendants' violations of his federal

constitutional rights specified above, plaintiff has suffered substantial damage, as detailed

hereinabove. The individual and non-municipal entity defendants’ intentional and reckless

acts, as described above, were intentional, wanton, malicious, oppressive, and undertaken

with reckless disregard for Byrd’s rights, thus entitling him to an award of punitive damages

under federal law.

DECLARATORY RELIEF CLAIMS

32. The following defendants are liable to Byrd for declaratory relief under federal

law: (1) Teater, for false arrest and malicious prosecution, in violation of Byrd’s rights under

the Fourth Amendment; (2) Spencer and Pazin, for abuse of process, manipulation of the

criminal proceedings, and conspiracy to violate Byrd’s due process rights and deprive him of

his property rights, in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3)

Mauzy, Salvadori Realty, Spencer, Pazin, Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius, Campodonica, the

Campodonica Trust, Hostetler Investments and Bellevue, for joint and/or conspiratorial activity

with state actors that constituted abuse of process, manipulation of the criminal proceedings,

and conspiracy to violate Byrd’s due process rights and deprive him of his property rights, in

violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments; (4) Atwater, for having a de

facto custom and policy of failing to terminate, supervise and/or discipline Teater, which was

the moving force behind Teater’s constitutional violations stated hereinabove, and for

policymaker Chief Hawthorn’s non-disclosure of Teater’s record of criminal misconduct and

dishonesty; (5) Merced County, for failing to terminate, supervise, and/or discipline Spencer

and Pazin, which was the moving force behind all but one of the constitutional violations set

forth hereinabove; and (6) Merced County, based on the actions of their appointed

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policymakers, Spencer and Pazin, which were the moving forces behind all but one of the

constitutional violations set forth hereinabove.

33. The foregoing factual allegations set forth an actual controversy with respect to

the violation of Byrd’s federal constitutional rights. Therefore, this proceeding is an

appropriate one for declaratory relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2201.

34. Byrd seeks a declaration from this Court that the defendants, based on the

factual transaction underlying this proceeding, violated the constitutional rights identified

hereinabove. This declaration may be based on all of the facts underlying this proceeding

without regard to any issue of qualified or absolute immunity, since such immunities only apply

to claims for monetary relief.

35. Byrd also requests further necessary and proper relief as provided for under 28

U.S.C. § 2202, including the full expungement of the records of his criminal arrest and

prosecution and the full restoration of the property rights of which he has been deprived.

STATE CIVIL RIGHTS CLAIMS

36. The following defendants are liable to Byrd under California Civil Code § 52.1

for state civil rights violations, which may be based upon the federal constitutional violations

set forth hereinabove, or their state constitutional equivalents: (1) Teater, for false arrest and

malicious prosecution, in violation of Byrd’s rights under the Fourth Amendment; (2) Spencer

and Pazin, for abuse of process, manipulation of the criminal proceedings, and conspiracy to

violate Byrd’s due process rights and deprive him of his property rights, in violation of the

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) Mauzy, Salvadori Realty, Spencer, Pazin,

Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius, Campodonica, the Campodonica Trust, Hostetler Investments

and Bellevue, for joint and/or conspiratorial activity with state actors that constituted abuse

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of process, manipulation of the criminal proceedings, and conspiracy to violate Byrd’s due

process rights and deprive him of his property rights, in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and

Fourteenth Amendments; (4) Atwater, as a result of its vicarious liability for Teater’s false

arrest and malicious prosecution, for having a de facto custom and policy of failing to

terminate, supervise and/or discipline Teater, which was the moving force behind Teater’s

constitutional violations stated hereinabove, and for policymaker Chief Hawthorn’s nondisclosure

of Teater’s record of criminal misconduct and dishonesty; (5) Merced County, as

a result of its vicarious liability for Spencer’s and Pazin’s misconduct, as specified

hereinabove, and for failing to terminate, supervise, and/or discipline Spencer and Pazin,

which was the moving force behind all but one of the constitutional violations set forth

hereinabove; and (6) Merced County, based on the actions of their appointed policymakers,

Spencer and Pazin, which were the moving forces behind all but one of the constitutional

violations set forth hereinabove. The defendants’ interference with these constitutional rights

was accomplished by means of force, coercion, and intimidation, and/or the threat thereof.

37. As a direct and proximate result of the defendants' violations of his federal and

state constitutional rights specified above, plaintiff has suffered substantial damage, as

detailed hereinabove. The defendants’ conduct set forth above entitles plaintiff not only to

actual damages, but also to an award of as much as three times that amount.

STATE LAW CLAIMS

38. The defendants are liable under California state law to Byrd on the following

bases: (1) Teater, for false arrest and malicious prosecution; (2) Spencer and Pazin, for

abuse of process, manipulation of the criminal proceedings, intentional interference with

economic advantage, and conspiracy; (3) Mauzy, and Salvadori Realty, for fraud (both actual

Case 1:06-cv-00900-OWW-LJO Document 1 Filed 07/15/2006 Page 16 of 18

____________________

COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES,

DECLARATORY RELIEF AND RESCISSION -17-

and constructive), breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the covenant of good

faith and fair dealing, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, breach

of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and

rescission; (4) Mauzy, Spencer, Pazin, Pecchenino, Gresham, Julius, Campodonica, the

Campodonica Trust, Hostetler Investments and Bellevue for fraud (both actual and

constructive), breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional interference

with prospective economic advantage, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing,

negligent misrepresentation, and rescission; (5) McKechnie, for professional negligence; (6)

Atwater, vicarious liability for Teater’s false arrest and malicious prosecution, and for

policymaker Chief Hawthorn’s non-disclosure of Teater’s record of criminal misconduct and

dishonesty; and (7) Merced County, vicarious liability for the misconduct of Spencer and Pazin,

set forth hereinabove. As a direct and proximate result of the defendants' misconduct

specified above, plaintiff has suffered substantial damage, as detailed hereinabove.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF

Plaintiff prays for judgment as follows:

1. For full compensatory damages in amounts according to proof;

2. For declaratory relief as requested hereinabove;

3. For punitive damages as to the federal civil rights causes of action against the

individual and non-municipal defendants, in amounts according to proof;

4. For treble damages according to proof under California Civil Code § 52.1;

5. For rescission of the sale of his property and invalidation of the deed and

related documents recorded thereupon on July 1, 2004;

6. For attorneys' fees and costs of suit; and

Case 1:06-cv-00900-OWW-LJO Document 1 Filed 07/15/2006 Page 17 of 18

____________________

COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES,

DECLARATORY RELIEF AND RESCISSION -18-

7. For such other relief as this Court deems just.

DEMAND FOR A JURY TRIAL

Plaintiff requests a trial by jury, consistent with his rights under the Seventh Amendment

and other applicable law.

In Fresno, California, this 15 day of July, 2006. th

/s/ Kevin G. Little

Kevin G. Little

Attorney for Plaintiff Richard Byrd

Case 1:06-cv-00900-OWW-LJO Document 1 Filed 07/15/2006 Page 18 of 18
------------------------------

Notes:

7-28-06
Merced Sun-Star
Man who was jailed on bribery charge sues to get land back...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12513043p-13227841c.html
The man who sold his land to former District Attorney Gordon Spencer while he was in jail and facing charges from the District Attorney's Office now wants his 21 acres back -- and he's suing for it. In a lawsuit filed in Fresno's U.S. District Court this week, Richard Byrd claims Spencer and Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, who also bought some of Byrd's land, "pursued and manipulated the criminal charges" against Byrd for their "own economic gain" by coercing him into selling his land...names eight local men who bought Byrd's land... Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, who was one of the investors and says he has been appointed by the group to speak on their behalf, said the purchase was a "fair, ethical and legal agreement."

7-23-06
Fresno Bee
A district attorney's 'fall from grace' told...Tim Eberly
http://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/12491981p-13208430c.html
Gordon Spencer of Merced Co. had a distinguished career soured by a scandalous finale. Gordon Spencer isn't a flashy man...known for living on the cheap, wearing inexpensive clothes and ugly ties.He did, however, develop a kind of arrogance in recent years that led him to brush off laws he was sworn to enforce as Merced County's district attorney. A hero...Much of Spencer's luster came from his willingness to take on big business in the legal arena. with an attitude...Superior Court judge Frank Dougherty..."In the past 10 years, I saw a marked change," "I saw a person who was consumed with power. I saw a person who [discarded] old friends and acquired new friends who he regarded as influential in the business community." to zero?...Spencer's temperament may have blocked his path to becoming a Superior Court judge. The first scandal was not a knockout punch, but they kept coming like a steady series of body blows, Morse said. Life goes on...The drama, though, hasn't ended: An early-morning fire last weekend at the Merced County courthouse destroyed several offices and work spaces of District Attorney's Office employees. The fire has not been linked to Spencer. "

7-19-06
Merced Sun-Star
Land deal rhetoric flares up...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12471197p-13189784c.html
Tension about recent press coverage of former District Attorney Gordon Spencer's land deal with Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and other prominent locals boiled over at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday when Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler harshly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey. Hostetler is one of the investors who bought land from a man while he was in jail being prosecuted by Spencer. During the meeting's public comment period, Hostetler leaned over the podium and read a statement that first refuted information in the Sun-Star story, then accused Kelsey of making "uncalled for comments." Hostetler said a Merced County civil grand jury investigation into Kelsey's family mining business five years ago left Kelsey in no position to pass judgment on others. This isn't the first time Hostetler and Kelsey have clashed. In March a voicemail message reportedly left by Hostetler was posted on the Web site Badlands Journal. In the message Hostetler accused Kelsey of using county staff members as her "personal pit bulls" to attack his employees.

Supervisors dock D.A. for swift exit...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12471196p-13189760c.html
District Attorney Gordon Spencer's abrupt resignation will cost him $7,763.19...early departure means his last paycheck will be docked $4,420, the bonus amount he earned for the first six months of 2006. If Spencer had served out his last year as district attorney -- originally slated to end in January 2007 -- he would have earned the extra money...early departure means his last paycheck will be docked $4,420, the bonus amount he earned for the first six months of 2006. The lost bonus might not be Spencer's only financial penalty. Chairman Mike Nelson announced that the county could ask Spencer to pay back "other funds that may have been given Mr. Spencer during his tenure here as district attorney."Nelson said the supervisors must wait until the Attorney General's Office releases its investigation into Spencer's use of the allowances before they move to recover funds from him.

7-16-06
Merced Sun-Star

Fire torches courts building...Doane Yawger
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12463486p-13182743c.html
An early morning fire on Sunday guts offices in the Superior Courts building, including offices of the Merced County deputy district attorneys
...$600,000 to $700,000 in damage...destroyed five offices of three deputy district attorneys and their secretaries.

Spencer news disappoints...Lola Barnett, Merced...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12463494p-13182766c.html
I must say the base reporting I've read disappoints me. Spencer serves drinks at Country Club...may have led to death of a young man...I'm sure they didn't stop serving drinks just because he left... OES finds Mr. Spencer guilty. Guilty of what?... Our judicial system is based upon the premise that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Therefore, let us not presume Mr. Spencer is guilty until all the facts are in.

7-18-06 Merced Co. Board of Supervisor agenda http://web.co.merced.ca.us/bos/boardagenda/current.pdf
PRESENTATION AND INTRODUCTION OF THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY REGIONAL BLUE PRINT BY MCAG
REGULAR CALENDAR
BOARD ACTION

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
21. Resolution acknowledging the resignation of Gordon Spencer, District Attorney and Public Administrator effective July 14, 2006 and
directing the Auditor/Controller to recover previously issued payments under Merced County Unrepresented Management Resolution No.
06-115, Section 5.D. Successor Delineation.

7-15-06
Merced Sun-Star
Amid turmoil, Spencer quits...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12456073p-13175492c.html
After a tumultuous week that included a dramatic car crash, a concussion, calls from the Board of Supervisors to step down, and continuing criminal investigations by the state Attorney General's Office, District Attorney Gordon Spencer said on Friday he will resign immediately. A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said his agency will continue to investigate Spencer.

7-14-06
Merced Sun-Star

County workers get brush up on ethics...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12450025p-13170424c.html
Amid investigations by the state Attorney General's Office and growing questions about government accountability, county officials got an earful from Graham and other ethics speakers this week. All county department heads and elected officials, as well as middle managers, were required to go to Graham's session on Monday. Elected officials and top-level employees also had to go to a two-hour course Tuesday taught by a Sacramento law firm that reviewed accepted guidelines for government openness and accountability. But not everyone attended...four officials, including Spencer, didn't go to Monday's meeting... Spencer, who was in the hospital Tuesday after a car accident Monday, didn't attend Tuesday's session. The four no-shows Monday -- Spencer, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan and County Counsel Ruben Castillo -- must go to Graham's Aug. 24 course for low-level managers if they want to keep their allowances. Morris said Kelsey had a family emergency and Pagan had a medical emergency Monday. He said he didn't know why Spencer and Castillo didn't attend. Supervisor Kathleen Crookham...felt Hedlund's session was "dull," she was glad to attend the ethics courses. "It reinforces the kind of things we should remember," Crookham said.
Correction...Last Updated: July 14, 2006, 02:51:25 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12450026p-13170466c.html
• A headline on Page A1 of Thursday's Sun-Star about District Attorney Gordon Spencer was incorrect. No representative from the hospital said Mr. Spencer suffered a head injury.

7-12-06
Merced Sun-Star

D.A. still in hospital...Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439963p-13161488c.html
The Merced County district attorney remained in the hospital Tuesday night with short-term memory loss after a rollover crash Monday night, his attorney said. The California Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation into the crash, though it doesn't look like any charges or citations will be filed, Public Information Officer Shane Ferriera said. Spencer called his wife from Smith's phone, and she took him to the hospital... The investigating officer interviewed Spencer at the hospital and tested him for driving under the influence...said the test includes looking for the smell of alcohol, slurred speech or red, watery eyes. Ferriera said he did not know if Spencer was given a breathalyzer test.

Panel may ask Spencer to resign from his post...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439964p-13161513c.html
Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said Tuesday that embattled District Attorney Gordon Spencer should resign immediately to help restore the District Attorney's Office from months of "turmoil." O'Banion told supervisors at their meeting Tuesday that he wants the board to vote sometime soon on whether Spencer should resign. He later said the vote will be at the supervisors' next meeting on Tuesday. "I'm not going to take any action until we have the attorney general's report," Kelsey said..."I'm not going to let the newspaper tell me what to do and I'm not going to grandstand for the public or for the newspaper." "We don't have all the facts." O'Banion brushed aside Kelsey's accusations
..."I don't look at it as grandstanding, I look at it as a responsibility we have to take back a department that is in turmoil." Supervisor Mike Nelson...when asked if Spencer should resign, he replied. "It would be nice if he would do that, yeah."

Police chief secrecy isn't right way...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439980p-13161532c.html
Plenty of mystery surrounds the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Kou Xiong, the Merced Police Department officer who was missing for two days before being located in the Madera County foothills. Now, after an internal affairs investigation by the police department, we're told Xiong is no longer on the force. But that's it as far as any official accounting of what may have taken place. The public deserves more of an explanation than that...police officials should divulge some reason for Xiong's termination.

Letters to the editor:
Spencer should step down...Mark Seivert, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439981p-13161523c.html
Editor: How many investigations need to be done on our district attorney from the state Attorney General's Office before we demand he step down? I think three in one year should be more than enough for anyone.
Pazin's actions a let-down...Phil McDaniels, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439957p-13161493c.html
Editor: With Gordon Spencer involved in Cellphonegate and SUVgate, it is not surprising to find him involved in yet another scheme as nefarious as the purchase of land of a jailed man. What is surprising is the behavior and attitude of one of his partners, the sheriff of Merced County... Sheriff Mark Pazin admits to knowing who the seller of the land was in the "final stages of the deal." ...the sheriff let the
chase for big bucks place a cloud over his name and the office of sheriff of Merced County.

7-11-06
Merced Sun-Star
District Attorney Spencer injured in creek car crash...Scott Jason -- Chris Collins; -- Mike De La Cruz; -- The Associated Press
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12435800p-13157709c.html
The Merced County district attorney was taken to the hospital Monday night after he rolled his Ford pickup truck into Bear Creek, a California Highway Patrol officer said. For unknown reasons, Spencer let the Ford F-150 pickup truck drift off the road and into the creek, he said. ...CHP Web site said the victim in the crash had minor injuries.

7-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
Spencer purchased land from jailed man...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12425122p-13147572c.html
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the District Attorney's Office. The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer's potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry last December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator. The attorney general is now looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, and five other prominent locals purchased in 2004. The intersection of the two events created a clash that was "absolutely impermissible" by attorney ethics standards, said Weisberg, the Stanford law professor. "There was a conflict of interest. " Dougherty, the county's presiding judge, said Spencer never told Byrd's attorney about his involvement in buying Byrd's land. Kelsey said she always has been troubled that the sheriff and district attorney joined one of the county's biggest developers to buy the land.

7-5-06
Merced Sun-Star
Tatum had a smorgasbord...Phil McDaniels, Merced...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12409089p-13133720c.html
Editor: Many thanks to City Editor Mike Fitzgerald for putting in words how many voters feel about the Merced County Board of Supervisors and its constant giveaway of our money to the hierarchy of county government. For someone who flew low under the radar during the Gordon Spencer matter AND the department heads' perks matter, County Executive Officer Dee Tatum surfaced long enough for another feast at the public trough. The board members have been in office too long and have lost sight of who they work for and who their decisions should benefit.

6-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
County supervisors clarify management policies...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12347503p-13077932c.html
Board of Supervisors approved sweeping changes on Tuesday to Merced County's policies on car and phone allowances given to top-level employees...also set new ethics training requirements and accountability standards for elected officials and department managers. It was the first official action the supervisors have taken in response to District Attorney Gordon Spencer's misuse of government equipment...
county Auditor Stephen Jones said that the county's attorney, Ruben Castillo, had advised him that a state law giving district attorneys and sheriffs the right to charge business expenses to the county may also give Spencer legal grounds for getting both a county phone and an allowance. The revised policy means:
• The 33 "A-level managers" in the county, which includes department heads, supervisors and other elected officials, must now sign a new form each year that says they will use their own car and phone for their jobs if they choose to receive monthly allowances as reimbursements.
• The state-mandated conflict-of-interest disclosure forms that county department heads and elected officials fill out each year will now be frequently audited by an outside firm.
• All department heads and elected officials must now attend an ethics training course once a year or lose out on their phone and car allowances.

6-15-06
Merced Sun-Star
Valley politicians report lands sales, wealth...Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12321524p-13054529c.html
WASHINGTON -- San Joaquin Valley lawmakers are a diversified lot, especially when it comes to their personal finances. They own land, though not necessarily as much as they used to. They own stocks. Several have spouses pulling political salaries. Cardoza reported that, last October, he sold 6.2 acres in Atwater. The land at the intersection of Bellevue Road and Redwood Avenue brought the Cardoza & Cardoza Landholding Partnership between $500,001 and $1 million. Cardoza turned to stocks. He reported purchasing some 32 different stocks in November and December. Cardoza's wife works as a physician in Merced.

Crookham is off the mark...Lorraine Dawson, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12321534p-13054545c.html
Editor: Some Merced County supervisors dismissed concerns that their allowances were excessive. Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she was frustrated that questions were being asked about her pay. "It's really unfortunate when this kind of scrutiny takes place." "And then it's really unfortunate when no one wants to run for office because they come under that type of scrutiny." "Does the rest of the world have to justify what they spend? No. This is a thankless job and one you don't get rich on." Mercedians have a right to know where the tax revenue is spent and why. Then there was this comment in a May 2 Sun-Star story: "Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she's known for the past few months that (District Attorney Gordon) Spencer has been using a county vehicle while receiving a car allowance at the same time, but she said she doesn't think it's a serious violation." Look no further than comments like these as to why Measure A was not passed.

6-13-06
Merced Sun-Star
OES faults Spencer over grant...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12312342p-13045915c.html
The state Office of Emergency Services says it will closely scrutinize Merced County's use of grant funds in the future after a report it released Monday concluded that District Attorney Gordon Spencer violated the terms of an OES grant. State will monitor county closely but funds won't have to be repaid. The report also found that the District Attorney's Office misled OES when it said it would assign a full-time deputy district attorney to prosecuting people who committed rural crimes. The OES report found three other grant violations:... There is no set deadline for when the attorney general's report will conclude.

Letters to the Editor...Last Updated: June 13, 2006, 01:52:58 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12312355p-13045923c.html
County wears blindfold...James V. Haslouer, Merced...1st letter
Editor: So let me see if I understand this correctly. If you are a county employee and you jeopardize a state- funded program for your own personal pocket stuffing and accept false cell phone and vehicle reimbursements (embezzlement), you can then use those monies to compute and enhance your retirement! ...who was signing the vouchers that District Attorney Gordon Spencer was submitting for five years or perhaps even longer? Pay Spencer more than $150K a year for what? His disdain for the law is obvious.Supervisors, stand up for your constituents and do the right thing.

6-3-06
Merced Sun-Star

Letters to the Editor
Merced Sun-Star B2 Saturday, June 3, 2006
Spencer violated Grant...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12270485p-13006930c.html
District Attorney Gordon Spencer violated the terms of a grant by driving a $27,000 SUV that he was never supposed to use, a report by a private auditing firm has found...conducted by Sacramento-based Macias, Gini and Co. The SUV, a 2005 Ford Expedition, was purchased a year ago with money from a state grant and was intended for Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse. Instead, the vehicle was "assigned solely to the County's District Attorney," the report concluded..."could jeopardize eligibility of the vehicle" and future funding from the grant. "It basically reinforces the fact that the car was not supposed to be used by the individual who was using it," county Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said. Last month, the state Attorney General's Office launched an embezzlement investigation into Spencer's use of county-owned equipment. The Office of Emergency Services is making its own inquiry into Spencer's actions. Both investigations are ongoing.

| »

Mirage

Submitted: Jul 23, 2006

It’s fitting to speak of mirages when the Valley gets this hot.

The political mirage of the week, in the wake of former Merced County DA Gordon Spenser’s spectacular fall that ended in Bear Creek a week (just before a mysterious fire in the DA department’s offices), was the set-to between developer Greg Hostetler (Ranchwood Homes) and Supervisor Deirdre Kelsey at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, exhaustively detailed below by the local press.

There is nothing like a juicy scandal. However, the whole thing was inevitable and is probably not the biggest political scandal waiting to unfold in Merced County.

All this drama, and the press and political obsession with making it all personal and a matter of integrity and reputation, is a waste of time and nothing but a scintillating diversion from the problem.

When urbanization comes, farming goes. It is a cold-blooded, ruthless process driven by the long-range planning of one small group, developers, and their profit taking. Everything else, including the reputations of particular developers and particular politicians, so engagingly showcased in this case, is a sideshow. Yes, it is flamboyantly Merced that the DA and the sheriff would have been partners in a deal to buy an advantageously placed land parcel from an inmate of the county jail indicted for attempted bribery of a police officer, who ended up serving six months instead of nine years. Yes, the peculiar blend of arrogance, stupidity, greed, and possibly actionable behavior is what we have come to have a perfect “right” to expect from “leadership” in Merced County.

Furthermore, we are not holding our breath in expectation that either Spenser, Pazin, Hostetler or any other members of the Bellevue Partnership (purchasers of the inmate’s land) will ever be indicted for anything, by Attorney General Bill Lockyer or the newly appointed DA, Larry Morse, II. Lockyer’s connections with Merced and Spenser are deep -- for instance, he has appointed two not one but two former Merced law enforcement officials to the top investigative position in the state Department of Justice -- and Morse has his own political career to look after. It is even a question how much further this investigation will go, if any further at all, because of what else might be found and who else, among the county’s “good old boys and girls” would be implicated in backroom land deals.

When the county “leadership” committed itself and the rest of us to becoming home to the University of California, Merced campus, it set in motion a speculative real estate boom that has laws of its own, not all of them legal, if you get the distinction.

There used to be another such informal law, in politics, that was pretty widely observed between the end of WWII and the election of Ronald Reagan as governor, and even the Reagan people mostly observed it. The idea was that the people would accept an ambition for political power and they will accept an ambition to get rich, but they will not – at least would not – accept an ambition for both in the same politician. The combination was felt to violate the public taste, which can lead to disasters now befalling Spenser and perhaps others soon to follow here in Merced County.

Another informal law from that bygone epoch was that an office holder was expected to be able to drink with people attempting to influence his vote, accept their political contributions and even their prostitutes, and vote against them the next morning.

Today, it is nauseatingly obvious here in the big speculative land boom that the loyalty of local, state and federal legislators representing Merced County has been sold to developers. You see it week after week in local land-use decision after decision, at the state level in the new Valley partnership for growth, and in Congress Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has introduced three bills in three years tailor-made to streamline the sale of farm and ranchland to developers and urbanize this area over the dead body of the Endangered Species Act and the species it is designed to try to protect.

All the protestations of personal insult, damage to reputation, even allegations of danger to a supervisor in the board chambers (because Hostetler called her out on her own profound conflicts of interest), are nothing but a Punch and Judy show. Anyone who has ever articulately opposed a board of supervisors’ or city council’s position in Merced County has received worse abuse from supervisors and council members than Kelsey received from Hostetler. One recalls grimly, former Supervisor Cortez-Keene’s McCarthyite interrogations, for example. More recently, board chairman Mike Nelson’s nasty response to any criticism and supervisor John Pedrozo’s belligerence toward it are equally fondly recalled. So, the public doesn’t buy Kelsey’s political vapors anymore than it buys Spenser’s memory loss.

The law in Merced County is that the most aggressive developer wins, period, whether it’s done crudely, as the scofflaw Hostetler does it, or more smoothly as larger, richer competitors of Ranchwood Homes do it, or with the elegant disdain of UC Merced, which steadfastly denies it is a developer at all while being the largest developer in the county. What is called “planning” in the county amounts to accommodation to development. Political competence consists of making sure developers agree to pay all legal expenses the county might incur as the result of lawsuits arising from their land-use decisions, which frequently violate aspects of the California Environmental Quality Act and laws of public process.

“Planning” in the county is a complete joke. The county has not updated its General Plan since before UC Merced was even contemplated and has chosen the route of simply amending it whenever necessary. It’s present face reminds one of members of Davy Jones’ crew in Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, with the university launched and the speculative boom gyrating out of control, local land-use jurisdictions are planning new general plan and community plan updates here, there and everywhere.

Even this tardy diligence is grudging and is planned to take about as long – as best it can be guessed – as the boom itself continues to its bust. The best thing for the public interest that could be done is to have a building moratorium while these updates, particularly the county general plan, are being done. When confronted with a public statement, signed by a coalition 15 local and regional groups, urging a moratorium, the supervisors voted for business as usual.

Whose interests do they represent?

Bill Hatch
-------------------------
Notes:

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.

The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.
We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority — city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county’s infrastructure.

Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge VernalPools.Org
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
MISSION STATEMENT

Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.
P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341
--------------

Merced DA under fire for 2004 land deal
He, 7 other investors made deal with a man facing bribery charge
By Chris Collins
Merced Sun-Star

Last Updated: July 9, 2006, 05:20:05 AM PDT
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the district attorney's office.

The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer's potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry in December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator.
The attorney general now is looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler and five other prominent locals bought in 2004.

The owner of the farmland, former Merced College police chief Richard Byrd, was arrested in March 2004 for bribing a sheriff's deputy. His bail was set at $500,000.

Byrd said his imprisonment forced his security company to go out of business and prompted his daughter to sell his land to help pay for attorney fees and other expenses.

Prosecutors in Spencer's office were working on a plea deal with Byrd in May 2004 when Spencer and the other investors pitched their offer to buy the land, according to public records and property sale documents Byrd provided.

Investors close deal

The investors, organized under the Campodonica Trust led by Merced real estate agent Carl Campodonica, closed the $1.3 million deal on the land July1, 2004. Byrd was released from jail 15 days later.
Frank Dougherty, the Merced County Superior Court presiding judge, said he has looked into the case and found that Spencer was "intimately involved" in pressing felony charges against Byrd.

It also is clear from property sale records that Spencer knew he was buying land from the man he was prosecuting. One document shows Spencer's and Pazin's signatures next to Byrd's name.
When the purchase went through two years ago, it drew little attention. But concerns about the deal have resurfaced in the wake of multiple investigations launched by state and local agencies examining Spencer's use of grant funds and county dollars.

The attorney general's investigation of the land deal could lead to extortion charges against Spencer.
Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor who specializes in white-collar crime, said Spencer's decision to pursue the land deal while prosecuting Byrd was "unbelievably bad."

"If the district attorney said to the defendant, 'I'm going to charge you with crime X, but if you reduce the price on your land, I'll give you a better deal,' then, boy, you could talk about extortion," Weisberg said.
Byrd said he never was approached by anyone from the district attorney's office while he was in jail. But he said he originally was told through his lawyer that he was facing nine years in state prison.

Byrd gets sentence reduced

After Byrd's daughter accepted the Campodonica Trust's offer to buy the land, Byrd was offered a plea deal that reduced his sentence to six months of county jail time.

Byrd also said he wonders why his $500,000 bail never was reduced.

Spencer did not return calls last week seeking comment. His Merced attorney, Terry Allen, said the attorney general's investigation is based only on "speculation."

"I assure you Byrd wasn't coerced into doing anything and Gordon wasn't doing anything to gain some advantage over him," Allen said.

Most of the other seven investors who were part of the Campodonica Trust either didn't return calls or said they didn't want to comment.

Hostetler, a local developer, said he joined the investment group at the last minute to help provide a little extra money needed to seal the deal. He said he didn't know Byrd was the seller.

Sheriff regrets joining group

The attorney general's office won't acknowledge it's investigating the land deal, but Pazin and Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse II said two investigators and a deputy attorney general have interviewed them as witnesses about the property purchase.

Pazin said that, at the behest of Dougherty, he sent a letter to the attorney general a few weeks ago asking his office to look into the land deal.

The sheriff said that when he joined the Campodonica Trust he didn't see a problem with entering the land deal. But he said he now regrets joining the investors.

Pazin said he didn't realize he was buying land from Byrd, who was in the custody of the Sheriff's Department at the time, until the final stages of the deal.

"Is there anything neglectful that I did? The answer is no," Pazin said.

"But is there a perception issue? Yes. And I accept that."

News that Spencer bought the land from a man he was prosecuting has roiled some county supervisors.
"The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish," Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said.

"I'm surprised that a transaction like that would occur."
----------------------

7-19-06
Merced Sun-Star
Land deal rhetoric flares up...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12471197p-13189784c.html
Tension about recent press coverage of former District Attorney Gordon Spencer's land deal with Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and other prominent locals boiled over at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday when Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler harshly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey. Hostetler is one of the investors who bought land from a man while he was in jail being prosecuted by Spencer. During the meeting's public comment period, Hostetler leaned over the podium and read a statement that first refuted information in the Sun-Star story, then accused Kelsey of making "uncalled for comments." Hostetler said a Merced County civil grand jury investigation into Kelsey's family mining business five years ago left Kelsey in no position to pass judgment on others. This isn't the first time Hostetler and Kelsey have clashed. In March a voicemail message reportedly left by Hostetler was posted on the Web site Badlands Journal. In the message Hostetler accused Kelsey of using county staff members as her "personal pit bulls" to attack his employees.
-------------------------

Kelsey fires back in strongly worded letter to chairman
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12481759p-13199319c.html
By Leslie Albrecht
LALBRECHT@MERCEDSUN-STAR.COM
July 21, 2006

The fire of controversy ignited when developer Greg Hostetler publicly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey is heating up.

Kelsey fanned the flames with a letter to board chairman Mike Nelson saying that she felt afraid for her safety when Hostetler read a statement about her during the public comment period at Tuesday's supervisors meeting.

"I am extremely disappointed that NO ONE intervened appropriately to stop the personal attack coming at me from the podium," Kelsey wrote in her letter to Nelson.

Kelsey's letter also says Hostetler used the "county forum as a means to personally attack me and my family."

Hostetler called Kelsey's letter a "mischaracterization" of what happened at the meeting.

"It would be my opinion that Deidre has overreacted, is acting childish, and is spinning the truth," said Hostetler.

He called for Kelsey to resign immediately because of the findings of a 2001-2002 Merced County civil grand jury report that investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company.

Hostetler's comments at the Tuesday meeting were a response to a Sun-Star article about a land deal Hostetler made with former District Attorney Gordon Spencer, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, and other prominent locals.

Hostetler, Spencer, Pazin and others bought the land from a man who was in jail awaiting prosecution by Spencer. The State Attorney General's office is investigating the deal.

Kelsey was quoted in the article saying, "The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish."

At Tuesday's meeting Hostetler called Kelsey's comments "inflammatory and unprofessional."

He held up a copy of the 2001-2002 grand jury report -- which investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company -- and said that Kelsey had engaged in "unethical conduct."

The jury's report accused Kelsey of having a conflict of interest involving her family's mining business. Kelsey told the Sun-Star in 2002 that the report was the work of "a good-old-boy network" upset because she did not bow to economic special interests.

Kelsey said Nelson, as chairman of the meeting, should have stopped Hostetler's speech because he was harassing and haranguing her and "looking with hostility directly at me" and "leaning forward towards the dais."

"I demand to be provided with a safe workplace and I believe the law provides for the safety of elected officials while engaged in county business," the letter said.

Kelsey's letter asks that "this issue be resolved either through some action of (Nelson's) or through the collective actions of the Board policy immediately."

Nelson met with County Counsel Ruben Castillo on Thursday and asked him to provide a legal opinion about whether the supervisors can restrict public comment.

A state law called the Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings, said Castillo, so any county policy would have to be in line with that law.

"I have a constitutional right to speak at a public forum," said Hostetler. "The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech.

"I will not be silenced. I live in America, not in Baghdad."

Nelson's seat on the supervisors' dais has a button that controls the microphone on the public podium. He said his role as chairman is to turn the mic off if a member of the public becomes disruptive.

"If I thought any member of the public was getting out of hand I would have asked for the sheriff to step in, but that wasn't the case," said Nelson.

Kelsey also faulted Sheriff Pazin and Undersheriff Bill Blake -- who were both in the audience during Hostetler's comments -- for not intervening during Hostetler's speech.

But Blake said he and the sheriff attend supervisors' meetings as participants, not police.

"I don't know what she wants us to do," said Blake. "I can't arrest him for being mean to the Board of Supervisors."

He added, "He didn't swear, he didn't threaten, he didn't yell ... I can't get up and say 'Greg you're breaking the law', because he's not. In fact, I would be afraid that a civil libertarian would think I was infringing under color of law on his free speech."

Kelsey said Hostetler's comments at the meeting caught her totally off-guard.

The meeting's original agenda included a ceremony where Kelsey was to receive a pin honoring her 10 years of service on the board, but the ceremony was postponed.

Instead, Kelsey found herself on the receiving end of Hostetler's criticism.

She said all elected officials can expect criticism, but Hostetler chose the wrong setting.

"That's the elbows and knees aspect of being in politics," said Kelsey. "However, in a public meeting doing county business is a different matter.

"There's a different set of expectations when I'm out and about in the community than when I'm sitting as a supervisor on the dais."

Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at 385-2484 or lalbrecht@mercedsun-star.com.

Controlling speech at meetings and the Brown Act

A state law called the Ralph M. Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings. The California First Amendment Coalition's Web Site includes this question and answer about limits on public comments.

Q: How far can an elected body go in controlling what speakers say in their comments?

A: In creating an opportunity for citizens to address a legislative body, the Legislature has created what is described in First Amendment jurisprudence as a limited public forum.

It is limited in the sense that speakers may be held to subject matter relevant to the meeting (or at least the agency's role) and may also be restricted by reasonable rules of time limitation and good order.

But, concluded the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the First Amendment would not permit officials presiding in a public forum of even this limited scope to outlaw comment simply on the basis of its being offensive -- "personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane."

What they may do is react to actual disruption, which in the context of a government meeting can mean simply wasting time to the detriment of all others present.

Board of Supervisors transcript

To view or listen to the meeting, check the Board of Supervisors Web site: web.co.merced.ca.us/bos/archive.html

HOSTETLER: Good morning, everyone. My name is Greg Hostetler, 2000 M Street, Merced, California.
I am here today because of my concerns about recent events. I would like to say several things this board and public should know.

I am speaking for myself and not the Bellevue Partnership.

The real estate transaction involving Sheriff Mark Pazin and District Attorney Gordon Spencer was negotiated, signed and agreed to between two business professionals and the seller Mr. Byrd and his daughter.

Neither Mr. Spencer and Mr. Pazin had any negotiations as to the price, terms, and conditions of the purchase from Mr. Byrd. If anyone of the Board of Supervisors would like to see the contract I would be more than happy to show you.

I believe that the purchase contract was professional and ethical.

The property was listed with a Merced real estate company and placed on the MLS, Multiple Listing Service, for approximately 30 days or longer for all members to sell, which is around 700 sales people in the Merced area.

One offer was received for $1.1 million from a potential buyer. The seller countered, Mr. Byrd, with a $1.4 million counter offer. The counter offer was declined by the buyer.

The next offer was received for $1.3 million was presented to Mr. Byrd by two Merced professionals, and it was accepted by Mr. Byrd. Subsequently portions of the buyer's interest were sold to other individuals in Merced, including the sheriff, including myself and a number of other partners and the district attorney. Because the seller wanted an all-cash transaction at $61,000 an acre, which is in the county. The property adjacent to it, two months earlier, sold for approximately $36,000 an acre. It has been reported that the land was annexed and rezoned. That is incorrect.

Several local investors and business professionals felt it was not a good enough investment so they declined to purchase a share.

I think hypothetical comments without the facts about the transaction are uncalled for such as those made by Stanford law professor and comments made by Deidre Kelsey.

They are inflammatory, unprofessional, and do not show the leadership qualities this county needs.

I think Deidre Kelsey's conduct is unethical on a number of issues. One being the operation of the mine of the Kelsey property in Snelling which has been the subject of a former grand jury investigation and it was reported that it had been operated for at least six years and failed to pay county road taxes ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler ...

HOSTETLER: ... and operating in a fishing business without county ordinance permitted ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler.

HOSTETLER: Yes.

NELSON: I would ask you to confine your comments to not attacks on board members please.

HOSTETLER: It's open public I can talk about the grand jury investigation ....

NELSON: I understand that ...

HOSTETLER: ... and I'm going to talk about it.

NELSON: Well you have a minute and four seconds.

HOSTETLER: That's fine. And I understand that. There's an ongoing investigation I understand to the operation of the mining there now and hopefully it will not go unenforced like the last time according to the grand jury report. Thank you.

(Kelsey left the chamber during Hostetler's comments. After Hostetler was done, she returned and sat down.)

KELSEY: If people bring things up that pertain to myself or my family in this forum I will recuse myself from the public forum at that time. And you can see I did leave and I have now come back.

(At the end of the meeting, each supervisor makes a report. Nelson's included the following comments.)

NELSON: I have nothing to report necessarily, but I did want to say, you know we always welcome people to come make comments during public opportunity to speak, but it's nice when people don't make personal attacks. It's just not, really, it's just not appropriate. That's all I have to say.
----------------------

DA still in hospital
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439963p-13161488c.html
By Scott Jason
SJASON@MERCEDSUN-STAR.COM
Last Updated: July 13, 2006, 01:38:01 AM PDT

The Merced County district attorney remained in the hospital Tuesday night with short-term memory loss after a rollover crash Monday night, his attorney said.

Terry Allen, Gordon Spencer's attorney, said he called Spencer as a friend to check his condition.

"He can't remember anything from two to three days ago," Allen said, adding Spencer can't recall the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Spencer was taken by his wife to Mercy Medical Center Merced after the wreck. He could not be reached for comment.

The California Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation into the crash, though it doesn't look like any charges or citations will be filed, Public Information Officer Shane Ferriera said.

The district attorney, who was wearing a seat belt, was driving alone on South East Bear Creek Drive at about 5 p.m., Ferriera said.

Spencer was a mile east of McKee Road when he apparently didn't follow a left curve and plunged his truck into the creek.

He did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Ferriera said.

A 35 mph sign is posted just before the turn. The CHP is not sure if Spencer was speeding, Ferriera said.

A man who lives near the crash site, Dan Smith, and his two children found Spencer and helped him call his wife. Assisting people who drive their cars into the creek is nothing new, Smith said.

"We treated him and did for him what we've done for a dozen other people," Smith said.

Smith's 9- and 12-year-old sons were tubing down the creek when they found Spencer's truck upside down at 5:30 p.m. Only the wheels and undercarriage were visible above the water.

They told their dad, who thought the truck was abandoned because people have stolen cars, stripped them and dumped them in the creek, he said.

When the two boys went back to get the Ford F-150's license plate number, they saw Spencer waist-high in the creek leaning against the bank.

Smith's 12-year-old son asked if Spencer needed help, and said the district attorney mumbled he didn't.

The son went home and told his dad there was a man in the creek.

After seeing the kids, Spencer crossed the creek and started walking toward Smith's home, about a quarter-mile from the crash, Smith said.

Spencer, wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, told Smith he was OK, and that he was driving, missed a turn and wrecked his truck.

There weren't any signs the district attorney was drinking or under the influence of drugs, Smith said.
"He acted like someone who had been in an eye-opening wreck," he said.

Smith recognized Spencer as the district attorney and brought him to his house to make a call.

"He was fine and talking with no apparent injuries, except an abrasion on his face from an air bag," Smith said.
Spencer called his wife from Smith's phone, and she took him to the hospital at about 6:30 p.m. She reported the crash to the CHP at 8:10 p.m., Ferriera said.

Leaving the scene and seeking treatment, as Spencer did, is not uncommon in single-vehicle wrecks with minor injuries, Ferriera said.

"It's not like it was a hit-and-run," he said.

The investigating officer interviewed Spencer at the hospital and tested him for driving under the influence.

Ferriera said the test includes looking for the smell of alcohol, slurred speech or red, watery eyes.

Ferriera said he did not know if Spencer was given a breathalyzer test.

The Merced County Sheriff's dive team checked the truck to make sure there weren't any other people in it. After 11 p.m., tow trucks removed Spencer's truck from the creek.

Timeline of the wreck

5 p.m. -- District Attorney Gordon Spencer rolls his Ford F-150 truck into Bear Creek.
5:30 p.m. -- A neighbor and his kids find Spencer and let him use their phone to call his wife.
6:30 p.m. -- Spencer's wife picks him up and takes the district attorney to Mercy Medical Center Merced.
8:10 p.m. -- California Highway Patrol officers are called about Spencer's crash. The investigating officer goes to the hospital to interview Spencer and test him for driving under the influence.
11:15 p.m. -- Tow trucks remove Spencer's pickup from the creek.

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Just one more day in Corruptionville

Submitted: Jul 10, 2006

The land speculation that has set in on Merced County has turned men into pigs. It seems that one of the parallel phenomena to real estate speculation in the county was a renewed focus on "leadership." Suddenly, everybody was talking about "leadership." "Leadership" got as popular as huge, oversized, flipping real estate investment, stacking water allotments on the west side, and gutting the federal Endangered Species Act.

Lord save us from "leadership" like this.

Bill Hatch
-------------------------------------------------
Attachment:

Spencer purchased land from jailed man...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12425122p-13147572c.html
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the District Attorney's Office. The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer's potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry last December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator. The attorney general is now looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, and five other prominent locals purchased in 2004. The intersection of the two events created a clash that was "absolutely impermissible" by attorney ethics standards, said Weisberg, the Stanford law professor. "There was a conflict of interest. " Dougherty, the county's presiding judge, said Spencer never told Byrd's attorney about his involvement in buying Byrd's land. Kelsey said she always has been troubled that the sheriff and district attorney joined one of the county's biggest developers to buy the land.

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Who does the Pomboza think it is, anyway?

Submitted: Jul 05, 2006

Given the money at stake, it's highly suspicious that U.S. Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and other lawmakers are urging FEMA to delay the release of preliminary maps. FEMA had planned to release the maps in October, weeks before the November election. -- Sacramento Bee editorial, July 2, 2006
--------------

That Pomboza is up and galloping through the countryside again, all four legs working together as it tries to stomp those new FEMA flood maps somewhere far beyond the sunshine of timely public review. But as the ugly beast runs along the levees of the Delta, note well the rigging that control its coordinated movements. You are watching political corruption in action right before your very eyes, selling out public health and safety to developers.

The Pomboza's mumbled protests of innocence are unintelligible absurdities. All that happened here was that the Pomboza got caught. All we hear is the sound of wind whistling through the rigging, the clop-clop-clop of the Pomboza's hoofs upon the levee road, and the plop-plop-plop of one more sell-out of the public to special interests.

Who does the Pomboza think it is, anyway? The public better pay attention to this beast because it means no good to anyone but itself, it has expensive tastes, and it does not believe the public has a sense of smell.

Bill Hatch
----------------

7-3-06
Sacramento Bee
Reality bites...Editorial...7-2-06
http://www.sacbee.com/content/opinion/v-print/story/14273956p-15083900c.html
Delaying release of FEMA maps would help politicians, not communities at risk. Egged on by developers and local politicians seeking re-election, several Central Valley congressmen are urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay the release of updated maps that will provide homeowners and businesses a more accurate picture of flood risks. FEMA should resist this pressure. The government hasn't updated most of these maps for 20 years, despite several damaging -- and revealing -- floods during that period. The problem is that new maps frighten local officials... Given the money at stake, it's highly suspicious that U.S. Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and other lawmakers are urging FEMA to delay the release of preliminary maps. As Cardoza notes, these FEMA maps are preliminary. The reason for releasing them is so communities can review them, debate them and understand how they might affect insurance and land-use plans before any final versions are approved. FEMA recently bowed to pressure in remapping flood plains in New Orleans, putting thousands at risk. It shouldn't do the same here -- especially not for a handful of politicians who would rather enhance their re-election chances than face the realities of floods.
-------------

Tracy Press
Delaying the inevitable?...Phil Hayworth
http://www.tracypress.com/local/2006-07-03-Delay.php
Many people living along California's 1,600-mile levee system are living in a flood plain, but government maps often don't designate the area as such...new federal flood insurance maps coming out in October could put many more businesses and homes in the designated flood plain, forcing cities to spend millions on repairing local levees and homeowners to spend roughly $1,200 a year on mandatory flood insurance. A group of California lawmakers led by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, is hoping to stall the release of the new maps - some think at least until the November election. "This information is critical and must be calculated correctly," Pombo said...along with 17 other California congressional representatives... Jeffrey Mount, a U.C. Davis geology professor and former state reclamation board member..."Don't you want to let the people who live behind the levees know what the level of risk is?" Mount and others think the lawmakers are trying to stall the release of the maps because they will bring more -- perhaps many more -- areas into the flood plain that weren't in it on the old maps. That scenario will certainly cost people and the building industry -- and possibly cost the lawmakers at the polls in November. Mount figures new development will get the lion's share because that's where the money is.

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