Law

Burch letter on Robinson subdivision application appeal, June 10, 2008

Submitted: Jun 11, 2008

We are posting a letter from Attorney Marsha Burch, representing San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water (POW) on a proposed subdivision on the Robinson Ranch, which straddles the Merced River above the Shaffer Bridge on Highway 159, because it raises important issues concerning this apparently innocuous application. We will post a report on this public hearing soon.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Marsha Burch
Attorney at Law
Grass Valley CA

June 10, 2008

Via Email and Facsimile

Merced County Board of Supervisors
County of Merced
2222 M Street
Merced, CA 95340

Re: Proposed Minor Subdivision Application/Parcel Map Waiver No. MS07-058 (Chris Robinson), Merced County, California

Dear members of the Board of Supervisors:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney, represents the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water, groups with an interest in the above-referenced proposed minor subdivision (“Proposal”). We submit the following comments on the Proposal. These comments are submitted in conjunction with additional information submitted to the Board on June 6 and June 10, 2008.

The Board of Supervisors should reverse the Planning Commission’s approval for two reasons. First, the Proposal is part of a larger development plan for the Robinson property, and so under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), the Proposal should be considered together with the applicant’s plans for a mining operation on the property. Second, the Proposal is not subject to the CEQA exemption relied upon by the Planning Commission.

This Proposal comes to you by way of an appeal of the March 26, 2008, Planning Commission approval of the Proposal and a determination that the Proposal is exempt from review under CEQA. The Planning Commission decided that the Proposal was exempt from CEQA under CEQA Guidelines Section 15061(b)(3), known as the “common sense” exemption. This exemption applies where “it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment.” (CEQA Guidelines § 15061(b)(3).)

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

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

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

A reasonable argument has been made that the Proposal may have a significant impact. The April 23, 2008, comment letter from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) appropriately points out that “the parcel split would extend about 10,000 feet along both sides of the portion of the Merced River that was restored. . . .” The USFWS went on to state that the potential for take of listed species is not clear with respect to the parcel split, but notes that such splits often lead to development. In this case, there is nothing in the approval by the Planning Commission that would prevent the sale of the individual lots and/or construction of homes on each of them. The fact that the applicant has indicated a present intent not to build homes does not mean that at any time in the future he could not change his mind and develop residences on the parcels.

Also, the Agricultural Chapter of the General Plan cautions against parcelization of farmland because smaller parcels encounter greater difficulty in supporting a full-time farming operation. The fact that the Proposal will result in parcels that are larger than the 160-acre minimum does not change the fact that the Proposal will create parcels that could be sold individually. The potential impacts of parcelization are exacerbated by the fact that the property is within the Merced County Agricultural Preserve. The conflict with the General Plan is significant, especially in light of the fact that the County has consistently refused to assess the cumulative impacts of the minor subdivisions occurring with alarming frequency throughout the County. Hundreds of these parcelization proposals have been approved, and yet the overall impact to agriculture in the County has never been considered.

Finally, the property is burdened by a conservation easement, and the details of the easement and its requirements have not been revealed to the decision makers or the public. In fact, County staff has determined that the easement simply will not be reviewed in connection with the Proposal. In a letter from Robert A. Lewis to the USFWS on May 7, 2008, Mr. Lewis stated that the County “was not provided” with the information regarding the details of the conservation easement, but would ask for such details later, at the time the Conditional Use Permit (“CUP”) application is evaluated. The public and the decision makers are in the dark about the details, and there is no certainty that the parcels created by the Proposal even comport with the easement boundaries. Also, it is possible that the parcelization of the property is contrary to the terms of the easement, and County staff’s head-in-the-sand approach could lead to County approval of a parcel split that violates the terms and/or the spirit of the conservation easement.

The parcelization will isolate the conservation easement. This means that any development or increase in intensity of use on the remaining parcels will not automatically require participation by the resource agencies holding the easement. The result will be reduced scrutiny of development adjacent to the easement, and the value of the easement itself could be lessened by the County’s action in approving the Proposal.

The comments of the USFWS and the facts pointed out by staff and the public reveal that the Proposal covers property inhabited by listed species, containing a conservation easement (the details of which the staff has determined to ignore), and within the agricultural preserve. The burden is now on the agency, the County, to refute the argument to a certainty, which is not possible under the circumstances.

When a project will result in physical changes to the environment, and there is dispute regarding the possibility of significant impact, the agency must prove that significant impacts cannot possibly occur. (Davidon Homes, supra, 54 Cal.App.4th at 118, emphasis added.) Also, when evidence is presented to a lead agency showing possibility of adverse impact, the agency cannot rely on the absence of supporting data, because the agency cannot say with certainty that there is no possibility of significant effect on the environment. (Dunn-Edwards Corp. v. Bay Area Air Quality Mgmt. Dist. (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 644, emphasis added.)

B. Potential for Conversion of Agricultural Lands

In this case, the Proposal will create four parcels. Each of these parcels could result in the construction of new residences, barns, other outbuildings and roads/driveways. The applicant continues to insist that he has no plans to change the use of the property, but the fact remains, the County’s action in approving this would allow for development of the individual parcels. When that development occurs is not the issue.

The General Plan, Land Use Chapter, Goal 7, is “Conservation of productive agricultural and other valuable open space lands.” The staff report to the Planning Commission suggested that the Proposal was consistent with this Goal because “[t]he project site will remain in row crop production and pasture land according to the applicant.” Again, the fact that the applicant does not have any immediate plans does not change the fact that the four parcels would be subject to development. In other words, the Proposal will allow for land use changes that could be contrary to Goal 7.

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

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

C. Potential Impacts to Listed Species

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

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

D. Segmenting of the Project

The Planning Commission erred in segmenting the Proposal to split the parcels from the overall development plan for the property. The parcelization of the property to avoid the conservation easement area is the first step toward the processing of the application for CUP 06-008. By isolating the conservation easement on one parcel, the remaining parcels will likely develop, whether it be a conversion to more intensive agricultural uses or other uses. The resource agencies involved in the conservation easement will not be able to participate in development adjacent to the easement, which may have significant impacts on its environmental values. The easement language must be reviewed and the impacts to its value must be evaluated.

CEQA defines a "project" extremely broadly as "an activity which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment, and which is any of the following: “(c) an activity that involves the issuance to a person of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use by one or more public agencies.” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21065; see Guidelines § 15378(a)(3) [a project is "the whole of an action"].)

Furthermore, courts give “project” a broad interpretation in order to maximize protection of the environment. (Azusa Land Reclamation Co. v. Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 1165, 1189.) The California Supreme Court has stated that CEQA is “to be interpreted in such manner as to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the statutory language.” (Friends of Mammoth v. Board of Supervisors (1972) 8 Cal.3d 247, 259, 104 Cal. Rptr. 761, 502 P.2d 1049.) From this principle, “it is clear that the requirements of CEQA ‘cannot be avoided by chopping up proposed projects into bite-sized pieces’ which, when taken individually, may have no significant adverse effect on the environment (Plan for Arcadia, Inc. v. City Council of Arcadia (1974) 42 Cal. App. 3d 712, 726, 117 Cal. Rptr. 96) ….” (Lake County Energy Council v. County of Lake (1977) 70 Cal. App. 3d 851, 854, 139 Cal. Rptr. 176.)

Consistent with this approach of not breaking an activity down into bite-sized pieces, Guidelines section 15378, subdivision (c) states, “the term ‘project’ refers to the activity which is being approved and which may be subject to several discretionary approvals by governmental agencies. The term ‘project’ does not mean each separate governmental approval.” Thus, in Plan for Arcadia, Inc. v. City Council of Arcadia (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 712, 726, the shopping center construction, parking lot construction and widening of an adjacent portion of the street were regarded as a single project for purposes of CEQA.

In this case the evidence shows that the overall development plan for the Robinson property is an “activity [that] may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21065; see also attached List of Exhibits.) Therefore, the parcelization and mining proposal is a single project within the purview of CEQA.

The most important factor to consider is the interrelationship between the proposed lots. For example, the separation of the conservation easement area from the other portions of the property is the first step toward application for the CUP, and will streamline the CUP process by legally separating the “mining parcel” from the “conservation parcel.” As set forth above, it is unclear whether this parcelization is even consistent with the conservation easement agreement, but the existence of the conservation easement on the parcel proposed for mining would certainly complicate environmental review of the CUP proposal.

Additional factors that support the conclusion that the overall development plan is a single project are (1) the parcels are under common ownership; and (2) the clear and expressed intent of the Applicant to obtain a CUP for the mining operation.

The property at issue is a sensitive one by any definition. According to the USFWS it is inhabited by myriad listed species, and the conservation easement itself speaks volumes about the ecological value of the property. There simply is no reasonable basis to excuse the County from CEQA’s requirements – and the certainty required for such a determination simply cannot be found.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment. We respectfully request that the Board of Supervisors reverse the decision of the Planning Commission that the Proposal is exempt from CEQA, and deny the Proposal.

Very truly yours,

Marsha A. Burch
Attorney

cc: San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Donald B. Mooney, Esq.

LIST OF EXHIBITS SUBMITTED

June 6:

Robinson Property Project
AG Central Valley Concrete
Army Corps Letter
Four Pumps Agreement
Lewis Letter to USFWS
Merced River Corridor Restoration Plan
MRSHEP Phase 3 Engineering Report
Robinson CUP
Robinson Ranch Application
Robinson Ranch Application Package
Robinson RP
Robinson Ranch RP txt
Vollmar Letter

June 10:

Coalition Statement
DFG Action Plan
Ecofull UC Vollmar
Fish and Game Land-use Change 2
Fish and Game Land-use Change 1
Paving Paradise
Rangeland Resolution
Silviera Report
SJKF Recovery Area
SJKF Documents
TNC VP Target
USFWS Recovery Plan 2
USFWS Recovery Plan 1
USFWS Upland Recovery
Vernal Pools and Related Wetlands
Wildlands Map
Williamson Map

| »

Merced County Planning Commission behavior outrageous

Submitted: Apr 04, 2008

Lydia Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center Protect Our Water (POW)
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center 3105 Yorkshire Lane
P.O. Box 778 Modesto, CA 95350
Merced, CA 95341 (209) 489-9178, ph
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax
raptorctr@bigvalley.net
sjrrc@sbcglobal.net

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, California 95340
Fax: (209) 726-7977
Ph: (209) 385-7366
dist1@co.merced.ca.us ; dist2@co.merced.ca.us ;
dist3@co.merced.ca.us ; Dist4@co.merced.ca.us ;
dist5@co.merced.ca.us

Dee Tatum
Chief Administrative Officer
ceo@data.co.merced.ca.us

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development
rlewis@co.merced.ca.us

James Fincher
County Counsel
jfincher@co.merced.ca.us

Paul A. Fillebrown
Director of Public Works
209-735-3989 Fax
spaf@co.merced.ca.us.

Re: Planning Commissioner Sloan intimidates, censors, and harasses the public and staff on March 26, 2008 Hearing (Felix Torres: CUP #MM07-025-1st Modification to CUP#05-031 and Minor Deviation)

April 4, 2008 Via: E-mail

Members of the Board,

Planning Commission Chairman Steve Sloan violated the public right to present testimony on a number of occasions at the March 26 Planning Commission hearing.

A member of the public attempted to read the resignation letter of Mary Stillahn, Confidential Secretary to the Merced County Housing Authority, which shed valuable light on the decision-making process of the project proponent. Chairman Sloan interrupted the member of the public numerous times.

Chairman Sloan denied the public its right to hear critical information during the testimony given by a County employee, Mr. Richard Graves, C.B.O., Deputy Building Official for Merced County. This testimony was not heard at the hearing held on February 27, 2008. The public, Commissioners, agencies, and staff did not have access to this information. Mr. Sloan not only interrupted Mr. Graves, he directed him to skip immediately to his concluding paragraph.

Department staff is not subject to time limits during a public hearing. Commissioner Sloan gave Mr. Graves five minutes. Mr. Graves’ letter included evidence of 22 omissions and violations.

Chairman Sloan censored public testimony and the other commissioners and County Counsel went along with it. He badgered, harassed and attempted to intimidate members of the public and County staff who were presenting information essential to public and the commission’s understanding of the Felix Torres project. He interfered with his own commission’s decision-making process. Chairman Sloan displayed outrageous bias in favor of project proponents and against important evidence from two public employees about deep flaws in this project.

At the Felix Torres hearing, the public also discovered that the County was ignorant of the recent legal settlement between Planada Community Services District and San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water restricting the district’s wastewater capacity, which would impact this project if it were within the PCSD boundaries. The County was unaware that the project is outside of district boundaries, which means that the district cannot serve the camp.

Chairman Sloan’s conduct during the Felix Torres hearing was outrageous. We request that the Board of Supervisors direct him to reopen the public hearing on that project at the April 9 Planning Commission meeting and direct him review laws and regulations for running a public hearing in the state of California. If Chairman Sloan refuses, we request the Board to remove him from the Planning Commission.

Lydia M. Miller Steve Burke

Cc: Interested parties

| »

What's happening here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

| »

Loose Cheeks, March 10, 2008

Submitted: Mar 10, 2008

Loose Cheeks
FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT

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

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

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

Item #1

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

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

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

Item #2

From the Merced County General Plan, Chapter 7:

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


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

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

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

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

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

Item #3

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

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

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

Item #4

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

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

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

Item #5

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

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

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

Item #6

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

Item #7

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

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

Rank Number of Beneficiaries Total

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

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

Item #8

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

Item #9

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

Item #10

7-26-07
Badlands Journal

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

Item #11

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

Item #12

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

Item #13

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

Item #14

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

Item #15

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

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

Item #16

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

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

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

Item #17

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

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

Item #18

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

| »

Concerning UC/Lawrence Livermore National Lab bombs over Tracy

Submitted: Mar 06, 2008

Organizing / Planning Meeting in Tracy on MARCH 6

Public Hearing in Tracy on MARCH 18

STOP THE BOMBPLEX

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

An important invitation for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Bombplex" Action Alert for Newsletters, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marylia Kelley,
Executive Director

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

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

| »

Raptor, POW and Citizens group defeat RMP in court

Submitted: Feb 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information contact:

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

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center

Protect Our Water

Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources

| »

Sonny Star, the Gigolo Press, still claiming it got it right on RMP

Submitted: Feb 16, 2008

The Merced Sun-Star missed, mangled and mutilated the Riverside Motorsparts Pork story so badly in alliance with its advertisers bent on stupefying its readers that it still doesn't get it after all this time: Condren and the County changed the zoning on the land to give the planning department and whoever ends up with it almost unlimited powers to develop it as they please. Without that chunk of private property adjacent to the former Castle Air Force Base, now under County control, the base project cannot get foreign trade zone status. And without that status, many local rice bowls will be broken. Condren has a thousand acres to sell under the most permissible zoning available, regardless of the outcome of the CEQA case.

But, for Sonny Star, a new ensemble for another spring makes all last year's bad go away.

The Merced Sun-Star got exactly one story right throughout the approval process for Riverside Motorsports Park: a relatively small one about how approval for the track project hinged on the Merced County Board of Supervisors overriding the Castle Airport Land Commission's refusal to shrink the safety zone on the airport sufficiently so that on paper it would be "safe" to send planes into the Castle strip over the race track. This story evidently caused so much consternation in the chambers of commerce among those "decent" investors that the actual hearing on the override, Sonny Star showed up in force -- two reporters plus the managing editor. The result was a story that added to public confusion.

All the while, RMP was buying those inserts, the greatest campaign to bribe Sonny Star since UC Merced.

Sonny Star, Cameron does not say, endorsed the RMP project.

However, after the approval and Condren stiffed his local investors, Sonny Star printed all kinds of nasty rumors about him in a hit job rivalling the one they did on former DA Gordon Spenser. In both cases Sonny got all the news except any actual indictment, and in Condren's case, all the news came mysteriously after the supervisors had approved the project. In this regard, Sonny's coverage had as much political impact as Supervisor Diedre Kelsey's ex post facto "town hall meetings," which she conducted as if they had the force of public hearings on the project, when they did not.

Also, during the build-up to the project approval, Sonny steadily ignored or bashed opponents of the track, adopting an attitude toward the project as critical and illuminated as that of Carl Pollard, a Merced City councilman at the time, who mumbled things about "jobs" before the supervisors and planning commissioners from time to time.

"Trusting gang of county supervisors"? Badlands published a memo from Condren written over a year before project approval bragging about having four of the five in his pocket already.

"Decent bunch of racing enthusiasts"? While one of those blameless civic leaders, Kenny Shepherd, was managing RMP's Altamont Speedway, a local resident who opposed the reopening of that track was buzzed by helicopters while the project CUP was violated so many times that even the lords of Alameda County government, who frequently forget that that county's line extend over Altamont Pass, were moved to punitive action as residents sued.

The only mistake Condren seems to have made in his long con on Merced County and local investors was in his choice of lawyers, the bloviating Tim Taylor in the lead, whose reply brief in superior court boiled down to a lecture to the San Joaquin Superior Court judge appointed to hear the case: "Now dear," he seemed to say, "we all know that CEQA exists, but you and I know it doesn't really matter, don't we." Taylor and his associate on the RMP case left the firm now suing Condren, and left them holding a $150,000 bill. Presumably his lawyers are holding a million or two of shares in RMP. We have not heard yet from the managing partners in Taylor's new law firm.

Condren and Sonny Star both allege that the credit crisis is making it difficult to impossible for him to raise the necessary funds to build the track. This raises the question of the congressional district in which the project is located, represented by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, which remains very close to having the highest mortgage foreclosure rate in the nation (second only to Detroit at the moment, according to the lastest reports). Cardoza's political philosophy boils down to: "This office does not get involved in local affairs (although his office is located on the third floor of the County Administration building) except when it comes to making three attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act on behalf of my friends in finance, insurance and real estate." It is a very dubious proposition that Condren didn't see something like the credit crisis coming. The financial press was full of warnings as early as 2006 and Condren's intelligence is not as corrupted as either Cardoza's or Sonny Star's.

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

2-16-08
Merced Sun-Star
Condren caught sitting on his last limb...Steve Cameron

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/196/story/145051.html
...A member of Condren's original investment group -- a decent bunch of racing enthusiasts who lost every penny and then were dumped from RMP entirely -- recalled something Condren confided in them quite early in this miserable affair.
"Merced County is the perfect place for the project," Condren told them, "because it's poor, they're hungry for any big new idea and they're dumb enough to approve anything."
Sadly, Condren's cruel analysis was correct, at least in part.
RMP did sail past a trusting gang of county supervisors who should have done a whole lot more homework.
He also found a lot of honest, hopeful Merced County business folk to rally around him -- promising the moon but later failing even to pay his bills.
It's ironic that Condren, who has masked so much of his business in a blizzard of confusing documents and legal mumbo-jumbo, now finds his ultimate exit speeded up by a group of angry attorneys.
Talk about justice with a smirk. This is it.
One of the first rules of the free-market jungle is never forgetting to pay your lawyers.
But our boy John did it, signing a promissory note for $147,000 to clear up his bills with the firm of Somach, Simmons & Dunn.
When he couldn't or didn't come up with the money, they sued...

| »

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

Submitted: Feb 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information contact:

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

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

| »

A law that works a hardship on the public

Submitted: Jan 27, 2008

Regular Badlands readers may have noticed that the 157-pp official transcript of the trial-court hearing on the CEQA case brought against Merced County and the Riverside Motorsports Park by San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and the Merced County Farm Bureau was removed last weekend from the site. This was done pursuant to the following notification from the president of the California Court Reporters Association and the advice of attorneys.

Mr. H....

The official transcript of the court hearing in the case of San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center vs. County of Merced must be removed from your Web site, Badlandsjournal, pursuant to Government Code Section 69954(d).

(d) Any court, party, or person who has purchased a transcript may, without paying a further fee to the reporter, reproduce a copy or portion thereof as an exhibit pursuant to court order or rule, or for internal use, but shall not otherwise provide or sell a copy or copies to any other party or person.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.


Lesia J. Mervin
CSR #4753, RMR, CRR
President - California Court Reporters Association
www.cal-ccra.org

Tulare County Trial Courts
211 S. Mooney Blvd., Room 303
Visalia, CA 93291
(559) 733-6561 X 130
(559) 967-1765 (cell)
lesia@quik.com

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This e-mail transmission, and any documents, files or previous e-mail messages attached to it, may contain confidential information that is legally privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, or a person responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of any of the information contained in or attached to this message is STRICTLY PROHIBITED. If you have received this transmission in error, please immediately notify me by reply e-mail at lesia@quik.com , and destroy the original transmission and its attachments without reading them or saving them to disk. Thank you.

We have several remarks to make about this tendentious interference with freedom of speech.

First, as frequent readers of court transcripts produced by California court reporters, we can understand how their guild might wish to assert a copyright similiar in force to that of any other novelist to protect the product of her creative genius. Court transcripts, although "official" and definitely public documents, are not always accurate.

Secondly, we sympathize with court reporters' difficulties extracting payment from unscrupulous attorneys for their official and public productions. In the case where Whiplash Willie is representing Duane X against MegaCorp, Willie doesn't always pay for the transcript. Likewise with the litigator from Slaughter, Gutbubble and Trash, representing Acme, Inc. v. ABC Import-Export on who pays the rent on the container full of 16-p nails on the Oakland docks. Also, it is possible that in this particular case, which has involved stories of the project proponent not paying legal bills, respondents have not paid for their transcripts. Should petitioners and the public on behalf of which they sued, who have paid their bills, be punished?

However, the court reporters' effective lobbying to assure them their justly deserved fees -- righting what is apparently an historical wrong done to hardworking, underpaid court reporters -- works an unfair disadvantage on the public bringing and supporting lawsuits under the California Environmental Quality Act. These are cases in which petitioners represent the public against their land-use authorities. More than 100 people testified or tried to at the public hearing before the Merced Board of Supervisors on this project. In fact, at the close of that marathon session, an elderly farmer remarked in the elevator: "Only the Raptors can save us now." Many of them supported the bringing of the lawsuit against Merced County and RMP. In CEQA, the public brings the suits against their local governments. The public unable to attend a full-day court hearing of the case should have the right to read the transcript. Despite the view of local organizers and public officials that CEQA is something to be memorized like Scripture to spice up public comments and staff overviews of projects, the public best learns it seeing arguments in local trial court made by petitioners and respondents about projects in the public's own backyard

We appreciate the difficulties court reporters face that occasioned this law. But the Legislature should amend Government Code Section 69954(d) to allow transcripts of cases brought on behalf of the public to be shared with the public. Private property rights in public documents strike us as peculiar doctrine.

Bill Hatch

| »

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

Submitted: Dec 01, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

From:Opensecrets.org
Dennis Cardoza

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

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

| »


To manage site Login