San Joaquin Valley

Another point of view brings more questions

Submitted: Mar 14, 2007

7 a.m. The roar of the highway, elevated somewhat above us here in Merced, spreads through the old town. A siren wails. A freight train rumbles through town on the north tracks, whistle blasting. The streets are already filling with traffic. The sun is taking the winter chill out of the air.

It all sounds and feels like the hustle and bustle of a town growing in prosperity, business, commerce, all the things that common sense calls good. So what if a few hundred people lose their houses on mortgages they should never have bought into? Even a few thousand. They made bad financial decisions.

Listen to the Big Sound rumbling on the highway and the rails. The Valley is growing, prosperity is coming. That sound means more work, maybe. So what if the air’s getting worse and we’ve got water and sewer issues? And what’s a morning in the Valley without greeting a homeless person on the sidewalk? The Valley has always had a population of mobile citizens without regular addresses.

Some say we ought to try to impose some limits on our growth, if not to avoid filling towns with strangers that do not a city make, to protect the environment and respect the natural resources. Others say, No. Government, alleged to be of, by and for the people, should stay out of the way of business. Let the market impose limits (as the present housing “correction” is doing). The environment is nothing but the arena in which growth happens. How growth occurs is totally a function of the invisible hand of the marketplace. Any assertions that the environment has intrinsic value or is related to public health and safety in any way, or that local land-use authorities ought to consider the limits included in environmental law and regulation, are nothing more than but irritating grumblings of malcontents. Furthermore, these malcontents do not realize that we must speak with One Voice to persuade upper echelons of government to help fund our growth. Because the best friend the free market ever had was a government controlled by business.

“Forget all your worries!” say the diesels rumbling up and down the highway, the freight trains whistling on the tracks. “This is the Valley! We work! We produce! We are many industries based on agriculture!”

In fact there were problems then and there are problems now. Then, the invisible opposable thumb of the free market was squashing a number of small farmers overproducing one of the most perishable fruits on earth, the cling peach of ancient memory. Throughout it all, processors rose and fell. The names on those canneries are largely forgotten. It’s ancient history. Other processors survived and flourished and became giants, supporting the remaining productive farms, now much larger themselves than the old farms and dairies. Urban growth occurred to take the overflow from the Bay Area, where industries new and old boomed and property values boomed. The ominous thing was that some time in there the Sierras and the Coast Range became invisible unless it had just rained or there was a strong wind.

At some point, well past the real moment of loss of balance between the urban and the rural, the city and the environment, even dull-witted people began to notice that it is almost impossible to travel in the Valley out of sight of urban development. Now, the Valley is a region of rural parts, but it is no longer rural.

Even remembering crops like the huge tonnage of cling peaches seems more than faintly ridiculous. It is gone, and with it, a local way of life is gone. The economy adjusted. We are here, now, not there, then. The economy should have no history. It is all about now and the future, just as, in those days, it was about that now and that future, the latter of which not resembling our present at all. Who could have imagined the changes? It was always disreputable to imagine changes or to remember "ancient history."

One of the paradoxes of the Valley economy begs the question whether growth raises all ships. Is it possible to have growth and at the same time growing poverty? Observing the ever-expanding outskirts of Sacramento, we see rings of tract housing that was once owned, is now rented, and is deteriorating. The paradox is that we usually assume that poverty is not a sign of growth because we equate growth with prosperity. But are all ships rising? In the recent speculative housing boom, the ships of all homeowners rose, at least on paper. But how many bad mortgages, mortgages the lenders knew the new homeowner would be unable to cover as the rate rose, are out there in the midst of the regional housing boom, ready to explode, leaving empty homes and unfortunate lives? The speculative housing boom seems to have been about money rather than a great need for houses, as our local unaffordable housing prices demonstrate. Nevertheless, I just received a telephone message telling me that a company had checked out my credit and decided I could afford to buy one of these houses – a statement that I know to be absurd.

Apparently, the way the mortgage business operates is that the predatory lender unloads mortgages (s)he knows full well will default into secondary markets. Housing economist Dean Baker sketches how the housing bubble is bursting:

The fall thus far has been relatively modest (around 3 percent nationwide), but with prices going in the wrong direction, most new homebuyers have no equity that they could rely upon to meet their monthly payments. As a result, delinquency rates began to soar in 2006. More than 10 percent of the subprime adjustable rate mortgages issued last year (the most risky category) were already seriously delinquent or foreclosed within 10 months of issuance. This is even before any of these mortgages reset to a higher interest rate. With foreclosure rates soaring, the music is about to stop. The investors who bought up these mortgages in the secondary market are now refusing to lend more money. Credit is drying up for both the subprime and the Alt-A market, which is a notch above subprime in creditworthiness. These two segments of the housing market together accounted for 40 percent of the mortgages issued in the last two years. If 40 percent of potential homebuyers suddenly have problems getting credit, it has to have a large impact on the housing market. Throw into the mix that the inventory of unsold homes is 25 percent higher than at the same time last year. And, the number of vacant units up for sale (normally an indication of a highly motivated seller) is up more than 40 percent compared to last year. Since house prices fell by three percent last year (six percent in real terms), it looks like we have the beginnings of a serious slide in house prices. And, a sharp fall in house prices will lead to more problems in the mortgage market. That is the story of a collapsing housing bubble. It is not pretty. It was predictable.

San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties already rank among the top foreclosure rates and least affordable housing in the nation. It might be predictable that the housing bubble will collapse more severely here.

The bust was predicted. The information was available to Valley business and political leaders. This information was suppressed, ignored, denied and mocked. Or is it that the Valley cannot think in any economic terms but boom and bust? Is that the legacy of agriculture?

Now the construction-defect lawsuits are starting. Some would say that is inevitable during an “inevitable” housing boom, when contractors are building too much, too fast, in a market driven by speculation. Toxic mold problems, which Merced has seen before, have not yet surfaced to the extent they have in class action suits in Sacramento suburbs. Already, however, there are rumors that homeowners are getting dire warnings from the developers that sold them their homes about the consequent loss of property value from disclosing defects.

The probable result is urban growth accompanied by the growth of poverty. Could this have been prevented? If so, how, in a state and region committed to the view that “growth is inevitable.” Think about the arrogance of this phrase for a moment, in terms of the huge parts of the US where growth is not happening at all -- in fact the reverse is happening. “Growth is inevitable,” our leaders say, shrugging their shoulders and collecting their cuts as the public schoolyards fill up with present-day equivalents of WWII surplus Quonset huts.

What sort of economic growth is suppressed by urban growth? Was construction, real estate sales, finance and insurance work the only kind of work? What are the economic and social costs of the steady deterioration of the quality of California public education since developers gained political control of the state? How about the costs of health care?

Why did Merced take the great plunge into housing development? Although it is still an unspeakable question, the consequences of the great speculative housing boom may make it a very pointed question by the end of the year.

Has the ideology of “raising all ships through inevitable growth” been a true guide or simply developer flak? Or, has it just redistributed income upward and caused the growth of more poverty?

How will our dear business and political leaders cover up all this, when even the local newspaper smells the story?

Bill Hatch

Notes:

3-6-07
Truthout.com
http://www.cepr.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1072&Itemid=45
The Housing Bubble Starts to Burst
By Dean Baker

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Death's pork barrel in a blonde wig

Submitted: Mar 03, 2007

Having gone to a war that is ending up as "Vietnam in the desert," and getting ready to start another one that could end up being "Waterloo in the sand," against nations accused of thinking about developing weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration in collaboration with UC Lawrence Livermore and UC Los Alamos national laboraties is set to fund development of a new generation of nuclear bombs. Although billions more of American taxpayers' money will flow toward California, removed from life-supporting programs into this weapons of mass destruction program, only an idiot would crow about it. Wiser eyes would weep at the state's public research university taking advantage of the administration's might-makes-right policy to enrich itself with this deadly work. The press covers the routine mechanics of empire.

This program is the ultimate pork barrel of fear and hatred. But it will provide UC with money, power and prestige, which we are told is a good thing. Somehow, because the Bush administration selected UC's Livermore lab over UC's Los Alamos lab, California is somehow a bigger, stronger, better province within the home states of the empire than puny little New Mexico.

Locally, we can be exceedingly proud that the Livermore lab got the contract to build the next generation of nukes because the most tangible connection the new UC Merced has to the greatest public research university in the universe (just ask them) is its memorandum of understanding with Livermore lab. Put that together with UC Livermore's plans for a biowarfare lab just outside Tracy to handle the most deadly toxins known to man and the recent increase in bomb testing going on at the same site, and the San Joaquin Valley is really moving up in the world. Our congressional leaders, who fought so valiantly so long against such overwhelming odds to bring us this lethal pork deserve our respect and highest praise. Maybe we didn't make it as the new Silicon Valley, but, by God and the United States of America, we got bombs and all the defense contracts behind them.

Success is right around the corner for the Valley. Our arrival on the Big Stage will be celebrated later this spring by the UC/Great Valley Center's annual conference. Now that UC has taken over the Center, gone are those conferences where local people were caught awkwardly in the act of stumbling through the mental effort of thinking and planning for the Valley future, coping with those tedious old-style problems like idiotic, unplanned development, air and water pollution, loss of farmland, ranchland and natural resources. This year, the new UC/GVC will present the vision of Dr. Carol Channing, keynote speaker of the conference, one of the most remorselessly positive entertainers on the face of the earth. Her most famous song, "Hello Dolly," was a ubiquitous, nauseating act of happy-happy-happy flak adopted by the Democratic Party to persuade the public to forget the Vietnam War.

Channing is expected to speak about her foundation's program to rebuild the rubble of arts programs in California's public schools, colleges and universities caused by 30 years of rampant growth that did not pay for itself. Now that we have the new nuke program, more depleted uranium and ebola on the way, I guess our leaders feel safe enough to promote an art class or two in high school.

Valley provincials might have preferred Lola Montez or at least Rose Maddux. The wigs of Dr. Channing, the world's most famous living blonde, remind us of the "atomic" beehive hairdos promoted by Las Vegas casino gangster flaks back in the days when the gambling tourist could actually watch a real nuclear bomb test in real time, out on the desert.

However, despite the mesmerizing power of "Hello Dolly," a few lyric fragments managed to sneak through at the time, for example:

There's somethin' happening here,
What it is ain't exactly clear.
There's a man with a gun over there,
Tellin' me I gotta beware.
I think it's time we stop,
Hey, what's that sound,
Everybody look what's going down...

- For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills, Buffalo Springfield, 1966

Badlands
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3-2-07
San Francisco Chronicle
Bush administration picks Lawrence Livermore warhead design...Scott Linklaw, AP

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/02/state/n091011S16.DTL
The Bush administration selected Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's design Friday for a new generation of atomic warheads, advancing a plan to update the nation's arsenal amid criticism from nuclear weapons opponents. The Lawrence Livermore design beat one submitted by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico because it can be built with more certainty in the absence of underground testing, the National Nuclear Security Administration said. If approved by Congress, the new weapon would be much larger than Cold War-era ones...

US to Develop New Hydrogen Bomb
by Ralph Vartabedian

Los Angeles Times
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0302-02.htm

The Energy Department will announce today a contract to develop the nation's first new hydrogen bomb in two decades, involving a collaboration between three national weapons laboratories, The Times has learned.

The mushroom cloud of the first test of a hydrogen bomb is seen in a 1952 file photo. The Bush administration is planning to develop a new hydrogen bomb - undermining efforts to stop nuclear proliferation. (Handout/Reuters)

The new bomb will include design features from all three labs, though Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area appears to have taken the lead position in the project. The Los Alamos and Sandia labs in New Mexico will also be part of the project.

Teams of scientists in California and New Mexico have been working since last year to develop the new bomb, using the world's most powerful supercomputers.

The weapon is known as the reliable replacement warhead and is intended to replace aging warheads now deployed on missiles aboard Trident submarines.

The contract decision was made by the Nuclear Weapons Council, which consists of officials from the Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Energy Department. Plans were underway Thursday to announce the award this afternoon.

The nuclear administration will issue the contract and run the program.

The cost of the development is secret, though outside experts said it would cost billions of dollars — perhaps tens of billions — to develop the bomb, build factories to restart high-volume weapons production and then assemble the weapons.

If Livermore does become the lead laboratory, confidence in the facility is likely to be bolstered, and political suggestions that its role in weapons development is unnecessary could be quelled.

A lead role by Los Alamos would help extract that facility from deep political problems growing out of security breaches.

The program is not expected to create a surge in employment at any of the labs

The program marks the first time the military has fielded a nuclear weapon design without an underground test. The last time scientists set off a hydrogen bomb was in 1991 under the Nevada desert.

President Clinton ordered a testing moratorium, and it has been continued by President Bush.

Since the reason for building the new bomb is to maintain confidence in the nation's nuclear deterrent, experts say, the Nuclear Weapons Council will want the most conservative design, which gives Livermore the upper hand.

The design details are secret, but Livermore's version utilizes major components that had been tested — though not produced — for a Navy bomb about two decades ago.

By contrast, Los Alamos selected a design that involved an atomic trigger and a thermonuclear component that had been tested individually.

However, the two elements were never tested together, said Philip Coyle, who serves on scientific advisory committees and formerly was deputy director at Livermore.

The Los Alamos design is said to contain highly attractive features, including innovative mechanisms that would prevent terrorists from detonating the bomb should they gain access to it, experts said. Those use controls were cited by military officials as a key factor in developing the weapon.

Proponents of the effort say that the nation's existing nuclear stockpile is getting old and that doubts will eventually grow about weapons reliability. They say the new bomb will not have a greater nuclear yield and could not perform any new military missions beyond those of existing weapons.

So far, those arguments have attracted bipartisan support, including from Democrats who have long played a leading role in nuclear arms issues.

Critics say the existing stockpile is perfectly reliable and can be maintained for decades. The new bomb will undermine U.S. efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, they say. In addition, a recent study showed that plutonium components in existing weapons were aging much more slowly than expected.

3-3-07
New York Times
New Design for Warhead Is Awarded to Livermore
By WILLIAM J. BROAD

The Bush administration announced yesterday the winner of a competition to design the nation’s first new nuclear weapon in nearly two decades and immediately set out to reassure Russia and China that the weapon, if built, would pose no new threat to either nation.

If President Bush decides to authorize production and Congress agrees, the research could lead to a long, expensive process to replace all American nuclear warheads in the next few decades with new designs.

The first to be replaced with the new Reliable Replacement Weapon would be the W-76, a warhead for missiles deployed on submarines.

Officials said the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California would design the replacement warhead based on previously tested components, allowing the administration to argue that no new underground tests would be necessary before deploying the new weapon.

Officials said, however, the Livermore design might eventually draw on technical contributions from a more novel approach on the drawing boards at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, Livermore’s longtime rival.

The surprise choice of a single laboratory reversed a tentative decision, reported in January, to combine elements of the Livermore and Los Alamos designs. In a behind-the-scenes debate over the last two months, nuclear experts inside and outside the government faulted the hybrid approach as unusual and technically risky, with some calling it a “Frankenbomb.”

Administration officials said the Livermore design had won primarily because its main elements were detonated beneath the Nevada desert decades ago, making it a better candidate under the nuclear test ban treaty, which the United States has signed but not ratified.

Thomas P. D’Agostino, acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Energy Department, told reporters that the Livermore design was “the most conservative approach.”

Administration officials said the hybrid had been rejected after senior members of the Navy, which will manage the W-76 replacement, worried that members of Congress would perceive it as more likely to require explosive testing.

The announcement of the research path had been expected in early January but was delayed, officials said, because of last-minute Navy concerns over control of financing and dividing the scientific labor.

The potentially expensive initiative faces an uncertain future and has generated much criticism from skeptics who argue that a new design for the nuclear arsenal is unneeded and is a potential stimulus to a global nuclear arms race.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a group in Washington. “There is an urgent need to reduce these weapons, not expand them. This will keep the Chinese, the Russians and others on guard to improve their own stockpiles.”

Among lawmakers who declared their opposition was Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.

“What worries me,” Mrs. Feinstein said, “is that the minute you begin to put more sophisticated warheads on the existing fleet, you are essentially creating a new nuclear weapon. And it’s just a matter of time before other nations do the same thing.”

Critics had ridiculed the hybrid approach as a compromise dictated by the politics of survival for the nuclear laboratories, rather than technical merit. In an unusual move, even senior arms designers spoke out publicly against what they called serious risks of merging differing designs from different laboratories.

“A hybrid design by inexperienced personnel, managed by committee, is not the best approach,” John Pedicini, technical head of the design team at Los Alamos, said last month in a public blog entry.

Mr. Pedicini conceded that the Livermore design had features “that are an advance over ours, and if we get the assignment, I would incorporate them in our design.”

“If this is what is meant by hybrid,” he said, “then the outcome would be good.”

The goal is to replace the arsenal of aging warheads with a generation meant to be sturdier, more reliable, safer from accidental detonation and more secure from theft.

The replacements will have the same explosive yields and other military characteristics of the current weapons, officials said, a point that senior administration officials have made to Russia in arguing that the new weapons do not represent an expansion of the American arsenal.

Mrs. Feinstein cited a report in December saying plutonium pits have a lifespan of at least 85 years, leading critics to question whether the new weapons are necessary.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

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Headless Chicken Set ponders Valley air pollution

Submitted: Feb 18, 2007

Greed makes for a debased ideology. I know we Americans pride ourselves on being pragmatic and above ideology, but the last six years should have shown us the limitations of that pretense. It isn't that we don't need ideology, but greed is the wrong basis. Self-interest, reflectively considered, is better. None of us planning to live our lives in the Valley have any reflective self-interest in the current, cynical state of air pollution politics. Yet the ideology of greed proclaims that we must grow and grow and grow and build more highways to accommodate the increased traffic from the growth. Greed compels us to believe "growth is inevitable." Greed forces us to believe there is nothing we can do, no policies we can create, that can stand in the way of the developers' bulldozer blade.

Greed is a liar and believing greed makes liars of us all. Growth is not "inevitable." A glance at American economic history, or the history of any other Western industrial society, will show that growth booms and growth busts, just like the recent speculative housing boom in the Valley. Growth is in fact killing the planet. Corporate business responds by buying science to cast doubt on the reality of global warming. Perhaps money ought not be the final arbiter of absolutely every public policy, but as long as business owns government, money remains the final arbiter.

Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris said his company is "absolutely aware" of residents' concerns about how the distribution center would affect Merced's air. He said Wal-Mart agreed to expand the project's environmental review to help better address those concerns.

That extra analysis added $38,695 to the environmental report's $344,655 price and delayed it by a few months.

"It delays the project, but if it gives everybody a comfort level that these things have been thoroughly evaluated, then it's absolutely the right thing to do," Morris said.

Nowhere locally is this cynicism of money clearer than in the world of San Joaquin Valley air pollution politics. Entering the maze of agencies involved in so-called regulation of our breathing problems is guaranteed to drive a public spirited soul concerned with elemental health and safety issues to a state of gibbering idiocy, at which point she would achieve intellectual unity with agency administrators who make their livings in this particular amusement park.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for monitoring mobile emission sources – trucks and cars that account for 80 percent of the air quality problem. The EPA has recently announced gasoline should use less benzene. This decision was the result of a lawsuit.

The state Air Resources Board and the regional boards like San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, are responsible for stationary emission sources. They look dimly upon farmers’ pumps and other stationary motors but somehow miss the impact of milk trucks. When bond money is generated, CARB has a hand in its distribution. The big plan for the Valley is to use bond money to pay for less polluting cars and trucks. It’s a win-win, public-private partnership!

Then come the CAGs and COGs, countywide or regional associations of the incorporated land-use authorities. These groups, made up almost exclusively of developer-bought local elected officials, are morphodite institutions, combining an alleged concern for air quality with real greed for transportation growth. Given that nothing beyond a speculative investment boom is more growth-inducing than more highways and expressways, the COGs and CAGs are nothing but regional lobbyists for federal highway funds, agencies involved with making sure air pollution issues are safely filed where the sun don’t shine. Lately, they have been peddling – with indifferent success – the idea that local citizens, actually the victims of speculative housing development, ought to pony up more sales taxes so that the local COG or CAG can get its proposals for more new roads and wider highways to the top of the stack at the state Department of Transportation, where the proposals must go before they go to the Federal Highway Authority, the Grandmother of All Pork Barrels. Although Merced has been a national leader in overpriced homes, speculative investment and now falling real estate prices and foreclosures, the people of the county have rejected three such invitations from their CAG to pony up an annual bribe for CalTrans.

Local political genius, Merced City Councilman Bill Spriggs, was the manager of the latest effort, which failed by more than the primary campaign did for the CalTrans bribe. Spriggs reportedly stomped his feet and yelled as newly elected state Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, for not supporting his road-bribe campaign. Galgiani, in an unexpectedly close race, went with the voters rather than the Temper-Tantrum Spriggs, who noted that his sales-tax campaign got more votes in Merced County than Galgiani did. Galgiani didn't need more votes than the CalTrans bribe initiative to win. She needed enough to win. Spriggs lost.

Beyond the COG/CAG level, we now have regional planning partnerships and blueprints. One of the co-chairs of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley is Stockton developer Fritz Grupe. Grupe recently pulled out of a deal to build 3,000 homes from Riverbank to McHenry Ave. last week, and now disputes he owes Riverbank the price of an updated general plan. Was that decision caused by the slump in housing prices or by how working on a partnership for growth from Stockton to Bakersfield has somehow sensitized the developer to the impacts of growth?

All Valley leadership is now marching to a unified theme: We must accept the designation of “severe non-attainment” of air quality goals. Although last year we achieved real parity with Los Angeles as the worst air pollution zone in the nation, this year we will achieve official recognition of this feat. By accepting the lowest standard in the nation, previously achieved only by Los Angeles, the lower the standards we will have to meet and put the date forward. This means that we will be eligible for the immediate future for federal highway funds to build more expressways and wider highways to induce more growth to further lower air quality standards. But, do not think that government is being stupid here. Government knows exactly what it is doing and for whom it is doing it. It only boggles the minds of people concerned about global warming, public health and safety, open space, the future of agriculture and habitat for endangered species.

Although Money buys enormous propaganda campaigns to promote its moral pretensions, It has no values at all beyond its own multiplication.

This was as far as we could get with our analysis of air pollution politics in the San Joaquin Valley. There are further levels. Boards, commissions, and other bodies – all appointed by politicians owned by developers – exist and overlay like fancy new GIS maps the actually elected local officials responsible for land-use decisions in California. Government’s approach to air pollution in the Valley is that whenever one agency gets a little too much heat – whenever the public appears that it might focus on one or a set of regulators to the point of actually achieving some air pollution control – government applies another layer of bureaucratic smog.

Two recent developments are noteworthy. First, UC Merced is ambitiously planning a medical school because, according to its website, the San Joaquin Valley offers a living research laboratory of the effects of air pollution. Cool! Secondly, political consultants are popping up to fleece the boggled citizenry with various schemes for campaigns to make it all better. These efforts seem to rely heavily on the latest principles of public relations. Actually, however, people in the San Joaquin Valley are already aware of air pollution.

The way environmental law and regulation is set up at the federal and state levels, lawsuits remains almost the only way to contest bad decisions by land-use authorities and state and federal regulators. There are several ways to learn this. First, the public can read the bought science in the environmental reviews for the projects, and the subsequent briefs and judicial decisions where legal action is sought against the projects. These are all public documents and this is an area that can be studied and has been successfully studied and analyzed by members of the public. They are creations of the human mind that can be understood by the human mind. Secondly, one can observe the amount of bullying done by politicians. They are at once in the pay of the developers so must approve the projects. On the other hand, they have to manage the public, which they do, more and more frequently as time goes on and the environment gets worse, by intimidation. Third, the public is free to notice that local land-use authorities are now universally indemnified by developers against any legal expenses arising from court challenge to their developments. Fourth, there are the ceaseless efforts to politically and legally strip the environmental laws and regulations of their force. The Pomboza (Rep. Dennis Cardoza and former Rep. RichPAC Pombo) launched a notable effort to gut the Endangered Species Act last year. It cost Pombo his seat because environmentalists, when seriously provoked, are capable of effective political retaliation. But, developer attorneys work ceaselessly to erode existing law and regulation. Not content with constant attacks on environmental law, they also erode First Amendment rights and state government codes – all to get that next project in to profit a developer and finance, insurance and real estate interests behind the developer.

Periodically, physicians appear, unflanked by public health officials, make their dire pronouncements, and disappear, absorbed back into their mysterious and awesome guild. Even doctors think the air pollution is getting pretty bad, the newspapers dutifully report. There must be something to it.

The public is vastly superior in numbers, but disorganized compared with developers with their clear, simple profit motive in mind and bought elected officials with the same simple goal. However, the public could focus its energy immediately on a campaign to stop growth until adequate general plans are written and to stop forever the extremely corrupt practice of developer indemnification of legal expenses to land-use authorities that approve utterly environmentally irresponsible projects. If land-use authorities were made financially responsible for the legal consequences of their decisions, they might be more careful. If forced by the voters to make a real new general plan instead of one more consultant special cooked up in the usual backroom by the usual suspects, the process might focus their attention on the mess they have created and called “inevitable growth.”

San Joaquin Valley air pollution is going to get worse because nobody appears at the moment willing to fight it publicly beyond the odd press release, the occasional workshop, and the rare lawsuit. To appear to stand against “inevitable growth,” even in the midst of the worst real estate bust in Valley history, for a livable environment, and to cease making common cause with our own gravediggers, is too much for the Headless Chicken Set. And that is why we have air pollution policy and regulation in the Valley that has been designed by the State and National Win-Win Public-Private Consortium of Developers and Headless Chickens.

It’s a hard thing to explain to a kid with asthma, but the consortium no doubt has a grant to development literature for children.

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.
The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.
We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.
Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority — city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county’s infrastructure.
Adopted 2006

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

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
MISSION STATEMENT

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

2-16-07
3,000 homes in Riverbank halted...Eve Hightower

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13300327p-13929010c.html
A developer that had hoped to build a 3,000-home community on more than 850 acres northwest of Riverbank no longer is interested....Grupe, a Stockton-based developer, had agreements to buy the acreage to build an upscale community called The Bridges, so Riverbank would stretch almost to McHenry Avenue. Grupe also is no longer interested in paying for the city's general plan update. It already was paying toward a promised $400,000; the entire plan was expected to cost $500,000.
"Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. I thought Grupe was going to pay for it whether they built or not," Mayor Chris Crifasi said at a City Council meeting this week. Grupe pulled out last week, citing concerns about a slowdown in the housing market... This is not the first time that Grupe offered to pay for an overdue general plan that involved expanding city boundaries to include land Grupe was interested in developing. Grupe also helped pay for Waterford's update as the plan explores allowing development in an area where the company is interested in building a 350-acre subdivision called Lake Pointe.

Valley hit hard by falloff in home sales, prices...Martin Crutsinger
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13300373p-13929057c.html
The slump in housing deepened in the final three months of last year with sales falling in 40 states and median home prices dropping in nearly half the metropolitan areas surveyed. While some economists said they believed the worst may be over for housing, others predicted more price declines to come until near-record levels of unsold homes are reduced. The National Association of Realtors said the states with the biggest declines in sales from October through December compared with the same period in 2005 were: Nevada, down 36.1 percent; Florida, down 30.8 percent; Arizona, down 26.9 percent; and California, down 21.3 percent. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, predicted that home prices in many parts of the country would continue to be under pressure for the rest of this year as the market works through still large inventories of unsold homes. "We are seeing the declines concentrated in the industrial Midwest, where the job market is a mess due to the layoffs in the auto industry, and in markets such as Florida and California" where a heavy influx of speculators had bid up prices, Zandi said.

Vacant and costly...J.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13300377p-13929065c.html
Record numbers of homes are sitting vacant awaiting buyers in the United States. That's about 62 percent more than usual, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The glut of vacant houses is readily apparent throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, as bank foreclosures and former rental homes flood the for-sale market. Stanislaus and Merced counties, in fact, have among the highest foreclosure rates in California, according to the January 2007 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report from RealtyTrac.com. Stanislaus County had 355 homes in mortgage default and facing possible foreclosure in January. That means about one in 425 homes are in the process of being taken over by lenders. The situation is worse in Merced County, where 189 homes — or one in 362 existing homes — were in default in January. Porter said foreclosure rates tend to go up when the real estate market slumps because homeowners can't sell fast enough or get the price they need to save their homes from default. That combination of a slow sales market, weak rental market, soaring foreclosure rate and excess new home construction created the glut of vacant homes for sale, Porter said.

2-15-07
Merced Sun-Star
Two doctors voice opposition to Wal-Mart plan...Leslie Albrecht

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13296668p-13925833c.html
Dr. John Holmes, a Merced orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Bob Vizzard, a Stockton emergency room physician, charged that fumes from diesel trucks driving to and from Wal-Mart's warehouse facility would damage Merced's already poor air quality and trigger asthma attacks and premature deaths. Consultants are studying the project's possible environmental impacts now; it won't go before the City Council for a vote until at least August, said Planning Manager Kim Espinosa. Holmes said measures to lessen the facility's impacts on air quality weren't sufficient. He accused the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District of acting irresponsibly by working with Wal-Mart to lessen possible air quality damage. "How can you allow a polluting project in here when you can't even control or mitigate the pollution that you already have?" said Holmes, who was also a vocal opponent of the Riverside Motorsports Park. "It's obvious this is inappropriate." In August 2006, the air district requested that the environmental impact report on the proposed distribution center include what's called a human health risk assessment... When the draft of the environmental report is released, the public will have 45 days to submit comments on the document. After consultants prepare written responses to each comment, the Planning Commission will vote on whether to recommend certification of the environmental report and on whether to approve the project. That vote probably won't happen until late summer. After the Planning Commission's vote, the City Council will issue the final decision on the project, Espinosa said

Fresno Bee
Vanishing farmland...Editorial

http://www.fresnobee.com/274/story/29995.html
Farming is the foundation of the Valley's economy, and a constant refrain hereabouts is that we need to save productive farmland from urban development. We're not doing a very good job of living up to those sentiments, though. A study just released by the state shows just how badly our deeds contradict our words: Urbanization of farmland in the Valley increased to an unprecedented pace in recent years, to the point that between 2002 and 2004, some 26 acres a day were being removed from farming and dedicated to other purposes. Fresno County led the state during that period in the pace of urbanization of its farmland. Other Valley counties posted significant losses. There are many reasons for this. Growth continues at a rapid rate, and people need homes and employment centers. Land is worth considerably more for development than it fetches as farm land. Some farmers can't wait to sell their land and cash in; others do so reluctantly -- but they do it, because the money is very seductive. Some are pushed out; they want to continue farming, but adjacent development brings pressure to get out of agriculture... The boom in housing construction in recent years accelerated the turnover of productive farm lands to urban uses. Los Angeles and Orange counties were once mighty producers of food, but there aren't even any commercial orange groves left in Orange County. Silicon Valley used to be a rich agricultural area; now the only things grown there are high-tech companies and expensive homes. That may be the fate of the Valley as well. But surely something important will be lost: There is no place on earth so well-suited to agriculture than the Valley. And the ramifications of losing all that domestic food production include an increased reliance on imports from other countries, with many attendant risks. There are ways to stop the loss of ag lands. Conservation easements and similar tools let farmers sell development rights, often in perpetuity, and remain in farming. Better planning could reduce the friction between urbanizing communities and surrounding farm operations. And cities like Fresno could start building up instead of out to accommodate population growth. But each of these solutions requires the will to employ them. And that's not much in evidence among elected officials and the special interests they often serve. So we may go on bemoaning the loss of the Valley's precious farm land -- and doing very little to slow or stop it. At least until we decide whether we really believe what we say.
2-14-07
Fresno Bee
State says San Joaquin Valley farmland being lost to development...AP

http://dwb.fresnobee.com/state_wire/business/story/13294092p-13923622c.html
In just two years, more than 18,800 acres of farmland in several San Joaquin Valley counties became subdivisions, shopping malls or other developments, setting a new state record for loss of farmland, according to newly released state data. A healthy real estate and construction market spurred farmers in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties to sell 18,801 acres between June 2002 and June 2004, said Molly Penberth, manager of the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Department of Conservation. Preliminary data from the program that tracks land development, found roughly 26 acres of farmland were removed from production each day in the two-year period...

Modesto Bee
Firm donated to backers of supervisors...Garth Stapley

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13293157p-13922748c.html
A company in hot competition for Stanislaus County supervisors' approval of a large development project recently gave $33,000 to groups trying to influence the campaigns of two supervisors. PCCP West Park LLC contributed $28,364 to an Elverta group that produced mailers attacking the opponent of Supervisor Jeff Grover before his November re-election. West Park also donated $5,000 to a group that slammed Supervisor Dick Monteith. Tuesday, West Park pitched its multimillion-dollar development plan for the Crows Landing Air Facility to supervisors, including Grover and Monteith.
Air facility proposals take wing at Board of Supervisors meeting...Tim Moran
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13293167p-13922767c.html
Opinions voiced Tuesday on the two proposals to develop the 1,528-acre former naval air base were varied...Texas-based Hillwood Inc. and Sacramento-based PCCP West Park LLC, each gave an hour synopsis at the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting of how they wanted to develop the base. West Park plan sparks most comment... Official: Continue working together...Supervisors questioned the developers on farmland mitigation, potential housing development and any expectation of local government money. Both developers said they had no plans for housing outside of incorporated cities and also said they had no need for local subsidy. Kamilos said he favors farmland mitigation and will provide farmland easements to replace developed farmland on an acre-for-acre basis. Magness said he didn't think the board should require farmland mitigation on a military base redevelopment project, but said Hillwood will comply with whatever the board decides. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the matter at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Fresno Bee
Explosive growth paves over farmland...Sanford Nax

http://www.fresnobee.com/170/story/29764.html
The urbanization of farmland in the central San Joaquin Valley sped up between 2002 and 2004, with an equivalent of 26 acres converted to nonagricultural uses each day, according to newly released data. The amount of ag land in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties converted to other uses in 2002-04 was a record -- and reflected an increase of 4,000 acres over the previous two-year period of 2000-02, the state reported. Fresno County lost more irrigated farmland in those two years than any other county in the state, closely followed by Kern County, said Molly Penberth, manager of the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Department of Conservation. Forty-three percent of the 18,801 acres removed from farm use in those five counties was in Fresno County, the No. 1 agriculture county in production value in the nation. The report, to be released in the next few months... The state also noted that Merced County's urbanized area grew by 1,852 acres from 2002 to 2004.

2-10-07
Washington Post
New EPA rules for gasoline limit benzene, a carcinogen...Juliet Eilperin
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/09/AR2007020902055.html
The Environmental Protection Agency issued rules yesterday that will dramatically cut toxic fumes from cars and trucks over the next 25 years...regulations, which will reduce the amount of cancer-causing benzene in gasoline and set tighter emission standards for autos in cold temperatures and for fuel containers, will help reduce toxic emissions from passenger cars by 80 percent from 1999 levels by 2030. Among air pollutants, benzene -- which naturally occurs in crude oil and is increased through refining to boost gasoline's octane rating -- poses the second-biggest cancer risk to Americans, after diesel emissions. Environmentalists, who had successfully sued EPA for failing to issue a benzene ruling by 2004, hailed yesterday's move but questioned the decision to allow refineries to trade emission credits.

New York Times
E.P.A. limits the benzene in gasoline by 2011...Felicity Barringer
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/10/washington/10benzene.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring significant reductions in the amount of cancer-causing benzene and other toxic hydrocarbon gases in gasoline and released into the air during storage and use, under a rule released Friday. The final rule, issued under a court-ordered deadline set after environmental groups filed suit about two years ago, provides more uniform reductions around the country than the agency had originally proposed. The rule puts a ceiling on the total benzene content of any gasoline produced after 2011...rule limits opportunities for those refineries that are not meeting the benzene limit to meet their obligation by buying credits from other refineries whose gasoline more than meets the standard. In addition to the new benzene limits for gasoline, the new rule also orders cuts for benzene levels in tailpipe emissions and pungent benzene vapors escaping from gasoline cans. The agency estimated that the new rule, called the Mobile Source Air Toxics rule, would result in 33,000 tons of reductions by 2015... “Cars and trucks put out a whole toxic soup of pollutants,” Emily Figdor of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, one of the two groups that sued the agency, said in an interview. “The administration is going after one of them. Benzene poses a whole host of health risks. It’s a good thing that they strengthened the standard.” California’s current standard for benzene is already below the new national standard, so that state’s 13 refineries are not affected. Marti Sinclair of the Sierra Club, which was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, it was too much. “We are happy that E.P.A. has addressed this important public health issue at last,”...“It is disappointing that E.P.A. would undermine its own program by adopting this dangerous trading scheme.”

For Immediate Release: February 8, 2007
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=821
EPA LIBRARY SYSTEM CONTINUES TO IMPLODE — Union Charges EPA with Unfair Labor Practice for Refusing to Consult on Closures

Washington, DC — Despite public pledges of cooperation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to consult with its own employees about the effects of past or schedule of future library closures, according to an unfair labor practices complaint released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the face of growing congressional opposition, EPA continues to shutter libraries and make collections unavailable both to its own staff and the public.
The unfair labor practice complaint was filed on Monday, February 5, 2007 by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals, Council 238 before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The complaint centers on the closure of the EPA Regional Library in Chicago and charges that EPA has refused to bargain on the impacts this action has on scientists and other specialists. The complaint asks for intervention to force EPA to enter binding arbitration on the subject.
“EPA touts its outreach efforts but has refused to consult with its own professionals or anyone else prior to hacking apart its library system,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “It is ridiculous that our nation’s top environmental professionals have to wage legal battle just to keep access to information.”
This Tuesday, in an oversight hearing before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson testified that only five of the 26-library network had been closed. In fact, additional libraries have been shut, including, most recently the EPA Regional Library in Atlanta (serving eight southeastern states) where virtually all services have been transferred to Cincinnati. When confronted by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the committee chair, Johnson said he knew nothing about this functional shuttering of the Atlanta facility.
The rationale for EPA’s library shutdowns has shifted. Originally it was to save funds but agency studies show that its libraries produce cost savings several times their budgets by eliminating staff time that would otherwise be spent on tracking down documents. In addition, EPA’s plan to digitize tens of thousands of documents will likely cost far more than the $1.5 million it estimated it might save.
Now, EPA claims that it wants to modernize its information system, even as its budget is being cut – the FY 08 proposed budget unveiled by President Bush this week would cut EPA’s budget by 6.6%. The agency, however, has not described how the new system it is implementing on a piecemeal basis will ultimately function. Nor is it known how this still-developing new system will perform any better.
“EPA is forcing its entire staff to become their own librarians, wasting countless hours and sacrificing access to mountains of information formerly available,” Goldberg continued. “These shuttered libraries handled tens of thousands of information requests each year, not the handful that EPA is now implying.”

2-5-07
Fresno Bee
Valley lobbies for air cleanup funds
Agency wants $250 million from Proposition 1B.By E.J. Schultz

http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/28090.html
SACRAMENTO — A newly launched effort to clean the Valley's air will face an early test in Sacramento this year when regulators begin to dole out $1 billion in air quality bond money. The Valley's air pollution agency is lobbying for at least $250 million to help replace polluting cars and trucks — a key part of a 16-year, $3 billion plan to meet federal clean air standards ...The $1 billion in clean air money is contained in Proposition 1B, the $19.9billion transportation bond approved by voters in November. The ballot measure calls for the air money to be spent to reduce emissions along trade corridors.

2-7-07
Breathing hard as air goes bad...Michael G. Mooney

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13270230p-13903091c.html
Over the past few days, the air in Modesto and the Northern San Joaquin Valley was as bad as, or worse than, it was in Fresno and other Central Valley locations. "Basically a strong high-pressure system has moved over California, creating a lid over the entire San Joaquin Valley," said Ferreria, an air quality project planner at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District...a "bowl" effect is created...Dust, ash, smoke and soot become trapped and hang in the air. Robert Martella, pharmacist..."The albuterol is flying off the shelves,"..."So are the other inhalers, especially for children."...he noticed a weekend sales spike in medicine used by asthmatics, which coincided with poor air quality recorded in and around Modesto. With the high pressure in place, Ferreria said, air movement is at a minimum, causing it to grow increasingly dirty and increasingly unhealthy to breathe. A few days ago, Ferreria said, the ridge settled directly over California, trapping pollution in the atmosphere throughout the entire eight-county Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Fresno Bee
Valley can clean its air quicker, study says...Mark Grossi

http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/28460.html
Valley residents can breathe clean air 11 years sooner than the local air district has predicted and save more than $5 billion in health-care costs...nonprofit International Sustainable Systems Research Center released a study that encourages swifter cleanup of diesel pollution and tougher rules for businesses — such as forbidding the use of older, polluting farm tractors on bad smog days. Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, replied that even if he followed all the suggestions, the Valley would still come up short...said the research center used outdated estimates of the Valley's pollution emissions. The recommendations also address further restriction of farm irrigation engines and wine fermentation. Another suggestion would regulate composting and green waste facilities years earlier than the district anticipates, according to the study. But those changes would affect only 30% of the problem. The study noted the air district does not have direct control over 70% of the problem — vehicles. The state and federal governments regulate vehicles, planes, trains and other so-called mobile sources. Diesel and other vehicle pollution are the biggest obstacles to a smog cleanup. The research center's study, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is likely to attract wide interest in California...

1/31/07
Fresno Bee
Don't hold your breath...Editorial

http://www.fresnobee.com/274/v-printerfriendly/story/27238.html
The Valley's air district has proposed dropping into the worst category for non-attainment of clean air standards...the district has decided that we can't meet the existing deadline of 2012. Moving from the current "serious" category to extreme would put the Valley in uncomfortable company. Los Angeles is the only region in the worst-offender ranks now. But it would extend the deadline, and finesse some stiff penalties from the federal government - principally the threat to freeze some $2 billion in highway funds. "Even if money were no object...is still physically impossible to get the pollution reductions we need by 2012," said district executive director Seyed Sadredin. Perhaps. But we might get the job done a lot faster with more cooperation from state and federal agencies - particularly the feds. Vehicles are responsible for about 80% for the smog-forming emissions that plague us. And the Valley air district - indeed, local government at all levels - is powerless to do a thing about it. Control of so-called "mobiles sources" rests with Sacramento and Washington. So, yes, perhaps this slide into extreme non-attainment is inevitable - because we didn't do enough to stop it, in Washington, in Sacramento or here at home. Meanwhile, if the air district has its way, a child born in the Valley today will graduate from high school before he has a chance to breathe clean air.

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Some evolutionary considerations

Submitted: Feb 03, 2007
1-24-07
Tracy Press
Supes vote to back bio-lab...John Upton

http://tracypress.com/content/view/7317/2/
Acting on the advice of its agricultural committee, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to support an anti-biological terrorism laboratory that could be built southwest of Tracy to research incurable fatal diseases that affect both animals and people. Superintendent Steven Gutierrez voted against his colleagues, saying it was too early to determine whether the research activities would help safeguard and support the general public. “What research activity” Gutierrez said. “You don’t know what they’re going to do.” The Department of Homeland Security and Lawrence Livermore have not yet announced what types of diseases will be studied at the bio-lab, how the pathogens will be shipped in and out of the bio-lab, or whether accidents will be publicly reported. The Tracy City Council is expected to vote on whether it supports the bio-lab proposal at its meeting Feb. 6. Lawrence Livermore is managed by the University of California. The university’s agricultural division’s government and external relations director, Steve Nation, said after the meeting that the agricultural industry strongly supports the proposed bio-lab. He said the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms support the bio-lab …

Let us return to ground recently covered. Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, was defeated by a coalition of state and national environmental groups because he and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, collectively known as the Pomboza, tried to gut the Endangered Species Act, one of the most popular laws in America.

Cardoza’s membership in the Pomboza stemmed from his support of the University of California’s attempts to destroy the richest fields of vernal pools, containing 15 endangered plants and animals, in the nation.

UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to win the contract to put a level-4 biowarfare laboratory on Site 300, the Livermore lab’s bomb-testing site, near Tracy. This lab would test the most dangerous biological toxins known to man. And it would get lots of defense grants for UC.

Congressional hearings are currently being held that raise the question: is UC, even with Bechtel at its side, incapable of running Los Alamos National Laboratory competently, or is it just impossible to run a weapons of mass destruction lab securely?

The ordinary person in Northern California has read a number of articles in recent years pointing out that UC security at the Livermore lab is not too hot either.

Maybe, that ordinary citizen, especially if he or she lives downwind from Tracy, does one more step of reasoning. You have to coat a bomb with plutonium and detonate it for its dust to spread around too much and pollute the groundwater, as it has near Tracy. It would seem that all you would have to do with a killer virus would be to drop a bottle of it on the floor and it could be all over the region rather quickly. Isn’t that what they do in a state of nature?

When that sort of thought goes through Joe Sixpack’s head, he rolls his eyes, groans, grabs another beer, turns on the TV and hopes he can really, really get into the football game.

An environmentally oriented person will protest this lab, as hundreds of people who have signed petitions against it have done.

Now, here comes the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms. They support the lab, they told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors’ agricultural committee to support it, and they did, leaving it up to the Tracy City Council to hold the line on Feb. 6.

Given the nature of the full-court flak press by UC, the federal government is not interested in putting such an incredibly dangerous laboratory near a place where there is real controversy about it. UC tried several years ago to site this same laboratory at UC Davis, the Davis City Council opposed it adamantly, and the biowarfare lab did not go to Davis. So far, UC has had better luck with the Pomboza.

The decision by agribusiness to support the project was made apparently based on some sort of promises by UC Livermore lab to do some work on animal diseases. This will be done by bringing the animal diseases in concentrated form to the bio lab to research them, right in the middle of the densest populations of cattle and poultry in the state. It is not that these industries lack the benefits of modern agricultural science through the UC Cooperative Extension, the USDA and numerous other scientific entities.

Let’s bring Avian Flu here to the Valley to study it. UC has a proven record of security lapses, but agribusiness knows that UC can do no wrong. If the Avian Flu gets out and wipes out the poultry industry, the migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway and some people, agribusiness and UC can blame it on terrorists. Terrorists are an extremely important part of biowarfare research, because without terrorists, there would be no reason for the research because the terrorists are the ones who are going to introduce the deadly toxins into our environment for which the biowarfare lab is going to create antidotes. The terrorists are going to do this because they hate freedom. If they hate freedom enough to sneak past UC’s porous security and liberate a few deadly cattle and poultry viruses from the Tracy level-4 biowarfare lab, who are you going to blame for that? Osama. Boy, will we be mad at Osama then. We’ll get him for sure if that happens. You bet. But, we’ll have all the antidote we need to inoculate millions of cows, chickens, turkeys, migrating ducks and humans by that time. You bet. UC and the federal government together cannot go wrong.

The only possible explanation for this political decision on the part of agribusiness is that it is anti-environmental. By golly, we’re going to stick it to them damn environmentalists this time! However, one lone San Joaquin County supervisor wisely said that nobody really knew what UC would be studying at the level-4 biowarfare lab. It reminded us in Merced of where UC Merced is going to get its water.

What the proposed biowarfare lab will study will depend on the grants it gets. It will depend overwhelmingly on federal government priorities, which returns us in a dismal circle to the terrorists again. I wonder if there is any other way of getting the terrorists not to unleash deadly plagues upon our livestock, migrating ducks and ourselves other than importing them to the neighborhood to experiment on in another leaky UC weapons of mass destruction lab that would seem to be an attraction for freedom-hating terrorists. But it’s never so simple. Because, in addition to your freedom-hating terrorists, you’ve got those terrorists who just hate Americans because Americans killed their relatives. But that gets into the metaphysics of the imperial defense industry, distracting us from the evolutionary facts on the ground.

Looking at agribusiness from an environmental point of view puts us in mind of what happens to endangered species when they lose too much of their habitat.

Scientific advisory c ommittee to Badlands editorial board
----------------------

Notes:

1-24-07
Stockton Record
Pombo in talks to join Oregon-based lobbying firm...Hank Shaw

http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070124/A_NEWS/701240320
The Washington insider paper Roll Call reported Tuesday: "The former House Resources chairman is in talks with Pac/West Communications, an Oregon-based PR and lobbying firm that has a roster of timber and energy clients." ...the company already has signed a deal with Pombo's former staff director, Steve Ding, to open a California office in Sacramento. Pombo, who, despite reports to the contrary, isn't rolling in dough, might very well need the added income - especially now that he'll probably keep his town house in Virginia.

1-31-07
Contra Costa Times
Nuclear security agency at risk...AP, MedialNews staff writer Ian Hoffman contributed to this story
http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/16586727.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Fed-up lawmakers on a House oversight committee said Tuesday that they want to strip a federal nuclear-weapons agency of its security responsibilities, and they threatened to shut down Los Alamos National Laboratory, now under new managers from the Bay Area. The lawmakers criticized the lab for its most recent security breach, in which a contract worker walked out with more than 1,500 pages of classified documents. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said that if problems cannot be solved this time, he will ask that Los Alamos lab, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, be shut down. After more than 60 years of operation by the University of California, the lab now is run by former Lawrence Livermore lab director Michael Anastasio and a consortium led by UC and San Francisco-based Bechtel National. Barton, Dingell and others on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a measure Tuesday to strip the National Nuclear Security Administration of its primary security responsibilities and turn them back to the Energy Department...expressed concerns that NNSA has not fixed Los Alamos security problems despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on improvements. A new management team was installed at Los Alamos less than a year ago, in part to reverse years of security and safety problems. The embarrassing October incident involving the classified documents resulted in a shake-up in the agency that oversees the lab. Linton Brooks, already reprimanded for an earlier incident, resigned this month as NNSA chief. Tuesday's four-hour hearing, lawmakers asked repeatedly why the lab needs to exist and whether it simply has too much responsibility for too many secret materials. Deputy energy secretary Clay Sell said Los Alamos probably could not be replaced or duplicated...is the only place where plutonium fission cores for weapons can be made...much of what happens at Los Alamos is secret because the lab is responsible for the bulk of the strategic nuclear weapons stockpile. "It has been suggested that we shoot the dog," Sell responded. "I have to reject that suggestion.”

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First draft down the Memory Hole

Submitted: Feb 02, 2007
Finally, valley's farmers get seat at USDA's table...Editorial

http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/13254925p-13889404c.html
Unlike previous incarnations, this farm bill proposal is actually important to farmers in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Anne Cannon, who spearheads Rep. Dennis Cardoza's team on ag issues, was particularly pleased with that: "For the USDA to specifically recognize us in such a fashion is hugely important." Cardoza is particularly well placed to have an impact. He is chairman of the subcommittee on fruits and vegetables and sits on subcommittees that deal with livestock and conservation. He also sits on the important Rules Committee, which sets the agenda for all of Congress. That makes him important to every other representative. Despite all the positives, this proposal could be in for a rough ride. Congress, not the USDA, writes legislation and already considerable resistance is developing. Ag issues split on regional lines rather than partisan, so it wasn't surprising when one Midwestern Republican senator greeted the proposal with a press release that said, essentially, "we'll see" about subsidy reductions.

Clearly, the trauma experienced by Big Wine, Big Cheeze, Big Milk and Big Cotton of not having their own USDA secretary from Modesto for a year and a half has unbalanced the mind of McClatchy-Modesto’s editorial staff. Modesto has produced two USDA secretaries in the last 20 years, Dick Lyng and Ann Veneman, and three state Department of Food and Agriculture secretaries, Lyng, Veneman, and Bill Lyons, Jr. The Modesto Assembly district has produced two Assembly Ag Committee chairmen in recent years, John Thurman and Dennis Cardoza.

The anxiety of agricultural commerce without a Modestan secretary of USDA may have popped big pumpkins in the north San Joaquin Valley.

It is true that a strong, bipartisan campaign including a strong showing by state and national environmental groups defeated Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, who might well have become the chairman of the House Ag Committee. But he and Cardoza formed the Pomboza, funded by developers, to try to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, Valley agriculture lost the enormous clout of chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, who retired.

So, now Big Wine, Big Cheese, etc., are stuck with Cardoza, the senior Valley Democrat in the newly elected Democratic Congress. Cardoza has been appointed chairman of an agricultural subcommittee on specialty crops. We find nothing in his political career to indicate he is interested in anything but the speculative real estate value of the land on which these fruits, nuts and vegetables are being grown. I have never met a farmer or rancher in the 18th congressional district who had confidence in Cardoza’s grasp of agricultural issues. Perhaps his agricultural “spearhead” knows the answers.

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Where's the juice?

Submitted: Jan 31, 2007

"The big question is how we're going to do our new initiatives while still maintaining existing programs," Cardoza said, adding that budget-balancing rules will further complicate the challenge.

A key Cardoza staffer and Turlock resident, attorney Dee Dee Moosekian, began working more than a year ago on crafting the House's specialty crop alternatives with groups including Environmental Defense, Western Growers Association and American Farmland Trust.

Their plan includes goals like quadrupling to $100 million the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This pays farmers for conservation measures that can accomplish goals like cutting air pollution. In another bid to aid specialty crop growers, the coalition wants to double to 5 million acres the amount of land conserved through the Wetlands Reserve Program. -- Merced Sun-Star, Jan. 30, 2007

Let us return to those halcyon days when the Pomboza ruled the earth of the north San Joaquin Valley. In March 2006 Republican House leadership appointed Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, to the vice chairmanship of the House Committee on Agriculture. Cardoza has also served on the agriculture committee since 2003.

When Pombo was appointed to the vice chair, even the Farm Bureau press commented it was odd to give the chairman of one House committee (Resources) the vice-chairmanship of another major committee. At time time, there was speculation Pombo would assume chairmanship of the agriculture committee and leave the resources committee. Meanwhile, his new position in agriculture was good campaign fund-raising strategy, in light of the upcoming 2007 Farm Bill.

However, the Pomboza's third attempt, from its vantage point in the House resources committee, to gut the Endangered Species Act, caused enough alarm in the national environmental community that -- in a bipartisan campaign -- it went after Pombo and defeated him in November.

The Pomboza was never about agriculture. It was about development, of use to agriculture solely if farmers want to sell their land. In fact, the boom in real estate prices in the north San Joaquin Valley has made buying farm land to farm on prohibitively expensive.

Although Cardoza is now chairman of a subcommittee on fruits and vegetables, what has the nominal Democrat Cardoza's reckless gamble -- hopping in Pombo's back pocket on behalf of a handful of developers -- done for the bargaining position of specialty crops in his district?

Wasn't the real, super-clever rightwing political game in 2006 to load up Pombo's campaign chest with agriculture contributions that weren't linked to Abramoff, and to arrange that Cardoza had a free ride?

But, something happened. Democrats control Congress now and Pombo was defeated. Can Cardoza stand on his own in a Congress controlled by his own alleged party? His immediate problems has nothing to do with specialty crops; it is a speculative housing bust, the bottom of which in his district is not yet visible. This is the same politician who, as chairman of the California state Assembly agriculure committee, argued that Merced County should finally adopt the Williamson Act because it would be mitigation for UC Merced. To say that Cardoza has split loyalties doesn't cover the half of it. Public development? Private development? His family's real estate interests? Health care? Agriculture comes last, we think, except where some clever developer can show him how agriculture can be used for real estate development.

How many acres of fruits and nuts in Cardoza's district are owned by people farming at a loss whose business plans terminate in real estate development?

We doubt he'll have much influence on funding for fruits and vegetables making remarks like:

"I can't imagine he's going to come to Modesto to speak ill of specialty crops; that would be suicide," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. "I can only imagine he's going to make a positive announcement."

Suicide? Really?

Does anybody put any faith in what the Bush administration announces about anything at this point? This is a regime now reduced to appointing rightwing commissars to control its own agencies on behalf of special interests:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities. -- New York Times, Jan. 30, 2007.

Given this kind of political setup, the Badlands editorial board is going to take a wild guess that fruits and vegetables may actually lose federal support to the War Suck, and that Cardoza, pressed between the Bush regime and the Democratic congressional leadership, doesn't have the juice. In fact, he is juice, of either a fruit or vegetable kind.

More fuel, more cars, more development.

If Cardoza is doing anything for agriculture in his district, it is getting on the enthanol bandwagon. Corn for ethanol is replacing cotton on the west side. There is even some question that part of the drive to ethanol is fueled less by oil prices than by cotton-grower anxiety that China is planning to dump an unknown quantity of its cotton on the world market, driving the world price so low that the federal government would balk at the subsidy required to bring US cotton up to a break-even price. Another "supply-side" factor is that US and Canadian genetically modified corn has lost a significant quantity of its export market.

Cracked corn prices to local dairymen are reported to have reached $200 per ton, shipped from the Midwest. That's up $50 per ton from prices reported in early November. Meanwhile, milk prices languish below break-even and dairymen dig deeper into their equity to stay in business.

It has to be the stupidest question in the world because nothing about the agricultural economy makes much sense anymore, but why aren't we growing this badly needed kind of corn here, instead of corn for ethanol? Instead, corn growers, who will use more btu's to grow the corn than it will produce, will then ship it to the nearest ethanol plant, wherever that is, rather than ship it across the road to the neighoring dairy. It seems to make sense, therefore it doesn't make sense, because it looks like agriculture is getting sucked into the lastest speculative boom: ethanol. The last time that happened to corn, c. 1974, the Midwest never recovered.

It makes about as much sense as invading oil producing nations capable of sustained guerrilla resistance. Did somebody up there just forget about 241 Marines in Lebanon? The best historians in the nation have three muses these days: Hubris, Ate, and Nemesis.

Perhaps, the USDA secretary will announce a program for disaster relief for citrus and vegetable crops losing market share due from e. coli and other contamination. In this case, the first relief ought to go to the unemployed farm workers who usually harvest these crops. We doubt a USDA secretary from Nebraska knows what a farm worker is. Perhaps, he's a compassionate man who decides on assisting the desperate farm workers. The Bush USDA commissar might overrule him. If the secretary objects, perhaps he will be sentenced to 10 years at Gitmo. That seems to be the general direction the republic is going.

If the gentle reader think that Badlands is being harsh on our congressman, we are only following the advice of one of our keenest observers of the American political scene: Henry Adams (1838-1918), whose grandfather and great-grandfather were presidents:

"You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!" -- Henry B. Adams -- Slapstick on Jenkins Hill, By WERTHER, Jan. 30, 2007, Counterpunch.com

Regarding the negative opinion of the president, it is shared by two-thirds of the nation.

As a form of government, imperialism does not seek or require the consent of the governed. It is a pure form of tyranny. The American attempt to combine domestic democracy with such tyrannical control over foreigners is hopelessly contradictory and hypocritical. A country can be democratic or it can be imperialistic, but it cannot be both. -- Chalmers Johnson, Tomdispatch.com, Jan. 31, 2007 (Johnson is the author of an historical trilogy on the American Empire: Blowback and Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic)

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

Notes:

1-30-07
Merced Sun-Star
Farming: Federal agricultural campaign plans local kick-off...Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13245102p-13880593c.html

The big farm bill debate escalates in the San Joaquin Valley this week...Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "I can't imagine he's going to come to Modesto to speak ill of specialty crops; that would be suicide," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. "I can only imagine he's going to make a positive announcement." Until now, specialty crops have harvested federal money primarily from ventures like the Market Access Program. This year, $100 million will help groups like the California Kiwifruit Commission, the California Table Grape Commission and the California Walnut Commission. By contrast, California growers of cotton, rice, wheat and corn received $321 million in federal payments in 2004... Cardoza, who chairs the House subcommittee handling fruits and vegetables, expects to reintroduce after President's Day an ambitious farm bill proposal that includes far greater specialty crop spending."The big question is how we're going to do our new initiatives while still maintaining existing programs," Cardoza said, adding that budget-balancing rules will further complicate the challenge. Their plan includes goals like quadrupling to $100 million the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This pays farmers for conservation measures that can accomplish goals like cutting air pollution. In another bid to aid specialty crop growers, the coalition wants to double to 5 million acres the amount of land conserved through the Wetlands Reserve Program. Currently, 6,264 acres in California are conserved through the program.

New York Times
Bush Directive Increases Sway on Regulation
by Robert Pear
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/30/washington/30rules.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In an interview on Monday, Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said, “This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable.”

Business groups welcomed the executive order, saying it had the potential to reduce what they saw as the burden of federal regulations. This burden is of great concern to many groups, including small businesses, that have given strong political and financial backing to Mr. Bush.

Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the executive order, saying it gave too much control to the White House and would hinder agencies’ efforts to protect the public.

Typically, agencies issue regulations under authority granted to them in laws enacted by Congress. In many cases, the statute does not say precisely what agencies should do, giving them considerable latitude in interpreting the law and developing regulations.

The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention.

Besides placing political appointees in charge of rule making, Mr. Bush said agencies must give the White House an opportunity to review “any significant guidance documents” before they are issued.

The Office of Management and Budget already has an elaborate process for the review of proposed rules. But in recent years, many agencies have circumvented this process by issuing guidance documents, which explain how they will enforce federal laws and contractual requirements.

Peter L. Strauss, a professor at Columbia Law School, said the executive order “achieves a major increase in White House control over domestic government.”

“Having lost control of Congress,” Mr. Strauss said, “the president is doing what he can to increase his control of the executive branch.”

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: “The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government’s own impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests.”

Business groups hailed the initiative.

“This is the most serious attempt by any chief executive to get control over the regulatory process, which spews out thousands of regulations a year,” said William L. Kovacs, a vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce. “Because of the executive order, regulations will be less onerous and more reasonable. Federal officials will have to pay more attention to the costs imposed on business, state and local governments, and society.”

Under the executive order, each federal agency must estimate “the combined aggregate costs and benefits of all its regulations” each year. Until now, agencies often tallied the costs and the benefits of major rules one by one, without measuring the cumulative effects.

Gary D. Bass, executive director of O.M.B. Watch, a liberal-leaning consumer group that monitors the Office of Management and Budget, criticized Mr. Bush’s order, saying, “It will result in more delay and more White House control over the day-to-day work of federal agencies.”

“By requiring agencies to show a ‘market failure,’ ” Dr. Bass said, “President Bush has created another hurdle for agencies to clear before they can issue rules protecting public health and safety.”

Wesley P. Warren, program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked at the White House for seven years under President Bill Clinton, said, “The executive order is a backdoor attempt to prevent E.P.A. from being able to enforce environmental safeguards that keep cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants out of the air and water.”

Business groups have complained about the proliferation of guidance documents. David W. Beier, a senior vice president of Amgen, the biotechnology company, said Medicare officials had issued such documents “with little or no public input.”

Hugh M. O’Neill, a vice president of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis, said guidance documents sometimes undermined or negated the effects of formal regulations.

In theory, guidance documents do not have the force of law. But the White House said the documents needed closer scrutiny because they “can have coercive effects” and “can impose significant costs” on the public. Many guidance documents are made available to regulated industries but not to the public.

Paul R. Noe, who worked on regulatory policy at the White House from 2001 to 2006, said such aberrations would soon end. “In the past, guidance documents were often issued in the dark,” Mr. Noe said. “The executive order will ensure they are issued in the sunshine, with more opportunity for public comment.”

Under the new White House policy, any guidance document expected to have an economic effect of $100 million a year or more must be posted on the Internet, and agencies must invite public comment, except in emergencies in which the White House grants an exemption.

The White House told agencies that in writing guidance documents, they could not impose new legal obligations on anyone and could not use “mandatory language such as ‘shall,’ ‘must,’ ‘required’ or ‘requirement.’ ”

The executive order was issued as White House aides were preparing for a battle over the nomination of Susan E. Dudley to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget.

President Bush first nominated Ms. Dudley last August. The nomination died in the Senate, under a barrage of criticism from environmental and consumer groups, which said she had been hostile to government regulation. Mr. Bush nominated her again on Jan. 9.

With Democrats in control, the Senate appears unlikely to confirm Ms. Dudley. But under the Constitution, the president could appoint her while the Senate is in recess, allowing her to serve through next year.

Some of Ms. Dudley’s views are reflected in the executive order. In a primer on regulation written in 2005, while she was at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Northern Virginia, Ms. Dudley said that government regulation was generally not warranted “in the absence of a significant market failure.”

She did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.

| »

McClatchy-Merced launches investigation of RMP chief John Condren

Submitted: Jan 29, 2007

McClatchy-Merced is digging up dirt on John Condren, CEO of the Riverside Motorsports Park, whose massive auto-racing project was approved last month by the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

Before going into what meager details the investigation has so far revealed, a little perspective on McClatchy's recent "news" offerings is required.

Big McC- Modesto reported Sunday that "visionaries" see a whole new city growing up in northern Merced County, made of unincorporated Delhi, Hilmar and Stevinson, housing as many as 50,000 people. McClatchy-Modesto goes on to report a big meeting on this subject between Rep. Dennis Cardoza and Turlock Mayor John Lazar. The article presents Riverside Motorsports Park, which claims it will produce 50,000 more people for feature events, as the anchor entertainment tenant for north Merced County growth. Much is said about sewer capacity, but Hostetler's totally illegal, 42-inch sewer trunk line aimed toward Stevinson from Livingston's sewer plant is not mentioned. Supervisor Diedre Kelsey, in whose district most of this growth is envisioned to happen, said:

"We just spent five years and more than a million dollars on the Delhi Community Plan. Then the county waltzes in and throws this out without letting me know about it. "Why do we create these (growth plan) committees, tell them we're going to work with them, then shaft them?" Kelsey continued. "I am not a happy camper. I hate to be a scold, but something has to change. We're going to get San Jose gridlock if we don't think a little smarter."

Elsewhere in the pages of local McClatchy outlets a different story is being told: of a mounting foreclosure rate, of developers walking away from options, of the end of the speculative housing boom. However, this obese media conglomerate tells the story strictly from the point of view of finance, insurance and real estate interests. Faced with real news about the tragedies unfolding throughout the north San Joaquin Valley, they quote predators blaming their victims, who are not interviewed about who qualified them for loans they did not understand, who foreclosed on their mortgages and what these victims of predatory lending and real estate huckstering are going to do now.

McClatchy has made a fortune off real estate and finance advertising, urging everyone to "realize the dream of home ownership" in one of the nation's least affordable housing markets. Thousands of speculators plunged into this market, now renting their properties for a quarter or a third the price of the mortgage.

Rising foreclosure rates are beginning to look a bit like the number of dead rodents observed at the beginning of plague outbreaks. The former Pombozastan, the 11th and 18th congressional districts of the north San Joaquin Valley, nationally famous for its aggression against federal environmental law and regulation, is drowning in red ink.

McClatchy is now reduced to writing stories about visions of growth to show it stands squarely behind the disappearing advertising revenue of the huckster class in a region without the jobs to stimulate the demand for housing. This boom was caused by a surplus of real estate speculation, not by genuine demand for housing that few locals could afford except for awhile through time-bomb loans.

In California, land-use decisions are made predominantly by city councils and county boards of supervisors. Reason and legislative intent would suggest that these elected officials would have some care for the health and welfare of their existing communities and would not fall for each and every vision produced by huckster speculators.

Obviously, that is not how it works. The huckster comes to the local land-use authority with a project. If it is sizeable, the huckster provides planning help and biologists to fashion the environmental documents to suit the needs of their employer. Local land-use officials judge the veracity of these documents by weight: the heavier they are the better their arguments must be.

Meanwhile, the huckster has signed an indemnification agreement with the local land-use authority, stating that if some members of the public sue the land-use authority for its approval of the project's environmental documents, regardless of the merits of the public's case, the huckster will pay all legal costs arising from the lawsuits.

Indemnification allows elected officials to treat public opposition to development projects with complete contempt -- and they do. They don't read comment letters and they frequently insult opponents of development when they testify. They just pass the public comment letters on to the hucksters' lawyers. "Your problem now." As long as it doesn't cost the city or county anything in legal expenses, why not approve it?

The answer to that question lies in the legal briefs of the lawsuits brought against those projects. These briefs are taboo topics for the newspapers. Lawsuits against development projects represent opposition to the hand that fattens McClatchy. The conglomerate media chain considers its own interests and allies itself with special interests rather than the common good. McClatchy's idea of a story on the impending environmental disaster in the north San Joaquin Valley is to support Cardoza-UC/Great Valley's call for wider highways, more parkways and more highway interchanges?

McClatchy-Sacramento has now taken to calling people who defend the laws of public process in California "voyeurs." It is a laughably fake journalism to write a story about the Brown Act, which provides Californians with open meeting laws, while simultaneously calling people who insist on their rights under the act as "voyeurs." This attack includes the unsubtle suggestion that if one is not a Big McC professional journalist, he should not be sticking his nose in public business. We have reached a point in most of Central California that what the McClatchy Co. says is news is the only news.

If members of the public Big McC labels "voyeurs" protest that a land-use authority has violated the Brown Act, the politicians say, "Who cares? We're indemnified."

Rather than face the issues on the Riverside Motorsports Park, now that its environmental review has been approved and two lawsuits have been filed against it, Big McC Merced has launched a terrific personal attack on John F. S. Condren, CEO for RMP.

It seems that McClatchy-Merced rag was provided a big bucket of the well known substance and instructed to throw at at the barn door to see what stuck. This, after it endorsed the project and misled potential litigants about the deadline for filing lawsuits against it. Real investigative reporting would have started by reading the environmental impact reports on the project, the briefs of the suits filed against it, and familiarity with basic environmental law.

A racetrack huckster is accused of having lied about his resume.

This is news?

From the standpoint of public health and safety, are the lies Condren is accused of telling on his resume more important than the environmental impacts of his project? Is the story that he may have bilked some Mormon investors in Nauvoo, IL more important than that his project may finally solidify the San Joaquin Valley's position as the worst air pollution basin in the United States, surpassing Los Angeles at last? Is the story that this man went bankrupt twice more important than what his project would do to traffic congestion on narrow county roads used for farm equipment transport, moving cows on foot, or for moving huge quantities of nuts to local processors during the harvest season?

And what about some sort of perspective on the project? What is the point of bringing an eight-track major stockcar venue, which will attract up to 50,000 spectators on feature event days, at the same time as US military forces are losing one war for oil resources and about to start another? What is the message here? We should worship the automobile, the ultimate cause of our resource wars? Or have we been simply inundated with propaganda through our McClatchy outlets for so long we don't know any better? The University of Calfornia has already contaminated groundwater near Tracy with depleted uranium at its bomb-testing site, and now it wants to build a biowarfare lab there, testing the most dangerous toxins known to man. But for years, our conglomerate media has been selling visions -- the sales pitches of private and public hucksters. From Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the Cowgirl Chancellor of UC Merced through Condren, we've been fed a steady diet of their greedy dreams, based on the exploitation of our land, water, air, and economy?

The problem McClatchy now faces is that all those greedy visions were profit centers for the newspapers. Now they are disappearing, leaving a foreclosure glut in place of a speculative boom in real estate. People in foreclosure are not good advertisers.

McClatchy also faces a crisis in political access. The Pomboza is defunct, Cardoza failed to gut the Endangered Species Act, UC Merced failed to ram its mitigation through federal agencies and is being sued on its community plan, Cardoza and irrigation districts failed to destroy the San Joaquin River Settlement, and -- through the Riverside Motorsports Park approval -- the Merced County Board of Supervisors has been revealed possibly to have been the marks in a long confidence game, which does not inspire confidence in the veracity of their obligatory quotes.

Didn't anyone remember Anne Eisenhower, the "president's granddaughter"? The blonde with the big hats, the big plans for Castle and the non-existent investors? Didn't anyone at the McClatchy outlet remember the immortal lead of pre-McClatchy reporter, Gary L. Jones, on another scam at Castle: "Ding, ding, ding goes the bell. Bounce, bounce, bounce goes the check"?

The factual situation is that two lawsuits have been filed against the Merced County Board of Supervisors, the elected county land-use authority, and a limited liability company called Riverside Motorsports Park. Petitioners argue that the board's approval of the project was illegal for a number of reasons.

There is always dirt. The hit on Condren raises questions.

Who wants the dirt dug up?

When do they want it dug up? (There is very little in this information that was not available before the board approved the project)

Why do they want it dug up?

Are any members of the Nicholson Co. related to county Assistant Planning Director Bill Nicholson?

Other, more speculative questions include:

If Condren truly is the former Nauvoo bunco artist the paper portrays him to be, is it possible, through a shell game with companies, he has managed to escape the indemnification agreement with the county?

If its indemnification is shaky and Condren is absent, what will the county do?

Could these cases lead to judicial review of the corrupt practice of development-project proponents indemnifying the land-use authorities charged with approving their projects under the California Environmental Quality Act?

If Condren actually did break some serious laws and was indicted, what testimony could he offer about how approval of the racetrack project was obtained?

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

Notes:

1-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Numbers don't add up for RMP -- never did...Steve Cameron
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/columnists/story/13242383p-13878034c.html
Apparently John Condren, the traveling start-up guru who insists he can plop a $250 million racing complex onto a local almond orchard, fudged a bit on the resume he's been selling. Condren's now had to change several things on his Web site bio and backpeddle on a few other curious tidbits... Imagine how that news might play with his would-be partners at NASCAR... Whatever Condren's background and how much of it might be true, it really isn't going to matter much if we're talking about the future of Riverside Motosports Park -- and more specifically, whether Merced County ever might be home to a massive auto-racing project with a price tag in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion bucks. The thing's never going to happen. ...the super-sized monster that Condren's been pitching to Merced politicians and business leaders doesn't have a chance in hell. Never. ...some good news...ultimately we'll see a racing complex built somewhere in the general vicinity of Castle Air Force Base...whatever turns up won't be anything like Condren's proposed Disneyland-with-engines. And it'll cost less...with a price tag somewhere in the $20 million range is not only feasible, it makes good business sense. But the guy's history suggests ideas involving monstrous amounts of money -- not to mention a couple of bankruptcies -- and he definitely enjoys living large... Nobody in Merced County ever has done any serious checking about this kind of megacomplex and where anyone would find the money to build it, so let me help you out. I've talked to people at NASCAR, to track operators, to investment firms who loan money for such things -- and most of them think I'm joking when they hear the full Riverside proposal. "There is no way -- none -- that you could spend $250 million for any kind of auto racing complex in Merced County unless you're Bill Gates and doing it just for a hobby. "It is totally impossible for a racing facility there -- a place without Nextel dates, on top of it -- to generate a fraction of the revenue necessary to handle the debt service just to build the thing. Consider AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants' sparkling facility that cost well north of $350 million when it was privately financed a few years ago...Principal owner Peter Magowan couldn't find a bank in California to loan the $175 million... If that's a problem for the Giants with their string of sellouts and major advertising deals...imagine where on earth anyone would find that kind of money running a motorsports complex which -- sorry for this -- is still considered in the middle of nowhere? "There just aren't going to be 50,000 people coming to Merced County for what would be middle-tier racing at best," admitted a member of Condren's original investment group. "It won't work the way he's been selling it, and it was never going to work." Nope.

Modesto Bee
Tee up 9 more holes, a town?...Garth Stapley
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13242325p-13877977c.html
TURLOCK -- The men behind JKB Homes...In fields beyond 60 older homes in two nondescript subdivisions bordering the Turlock Golf & Country Club, the builders envisioned a new town...if allowed by Merced County leaders: Add nine holes around which thousands of homes could be built. Plans covering 1,600 acres also feature a village center with shops, lakes and two sites for future Hilmar Unified School District schools. But the focal point remains the golf course. Built in 1925, it's surrounded mostly by dairies and open farmland. In May, JKB quietly submitted a request to Merced County officials for a "guidance package," or a preliminary development plan and schedule. A response from the county is expected in a few months.

1-28-07
Modesto Bee
Gearing up for Growth...Garth Stapley...EDITOR'S NOTE: First in a two-part series.
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13240230p-13875857c.html
A rural swath straddling two counties south of Turlock could be teeming with new homes and tens of thousands of people in the next couple of decades. If plans materialize, unassuming, unincorporated Stevinson, Delhi and Hilmar, plus a new town proposed between the last two, collectively could produce about 50,000 more people. That's like squeezing what would be Merced County's second-largest community, in terms of population, into a relatively compact, unincorporated patch of north Merced County. Turlock is eyeing a southward growth surge... Visionaries see the area producing one of the state's next cities. That would be Delhi...next door, developers want a new, unincorporated town to spring up around the Turlock Golf & Country Club...down the road in Atwater, plans roll on for an eight-track, $240 million raceway complex... The potential for a significant growth wave came up last week in a Washington, D.C., lunch meeting between Rep. Dennis Cardoza and Turlock Mayor John Lazar... But the very prospect of that many more cars, homes and people demands close attention, said Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who represents most of the area in the potential growth explosion. "We're going to have to approach growth in a very moderate, phased, well-planned method," Kelsey said, "or we're going to have pandemonium." Holding back the tide for now is a lack of adequate asphalt. Roadway, exit changes needed...Charlie Woods, Turlock's community development director. "The whole key is having a connection to 99." Merced County planners will continue shaping a growth plan for Hilmar that would allow it to double in size...owners of land around the famed Stevinson Ranch golf course will bide their time, hoping someday to see nearly 19,000people where now there are 400...Delhi remains the developers' best hope in the near future. Stores would bring tax revenue...That would change in a big way with new shopping centers along Highway 99...stores, planners say, could provide a tax base needed for Delhi to become a city. The advisory council studies and debates and recommends, but has no real control over Delhi's destiny. That power rests with the Merced County Board of Supervisors, whose five members have only one -- Kelsey -- representing the town. A 3-2 majority last month sold out Delhi, Kelsey said, with a vote favoring the Riverside Motorsports Park. Planners went behind her back, she said, to justify a traffic route to the complex from interchanges in and near Delhi. "I'm fairly well disgusted," Kelsey said. "We just spent five years and more than a million dollars on the Delhi Community Plan. Then the county waltzes in and throws this out without letting me know about it. "Why do we create these (growth plan) committees, tell them we're going to work with them, then shaft them?" Kelsey continued. "I am not a happy camper. I hate to be a scold, but something has to change. We're going to get San Jose gridlock if we don't think a little smarter." Sewage expansion...Supervisors supporting the raceway say it presents a golden opportunity to give Merced County a much-needed economic shot in the arm. Delhi's advisory council members, meanwhile, are preoccupied with a more immediate problem: sewage. Retailers will follow homes...Some growing communities require a certain amount of commercial and industrial development as a condition of approving more homes, to keep from becoming too much of a bedroom community, which Delhi already is. Homes cost the government more in police, park and other services than their property taxes provide. But Delhi movers and shakers are resigned to first welcoming more houses, whose developers -- they hope -- will provide the infrastructure needed to lure retailers. Future Growth Hot Spots...Southeast Turlock, Riverside Motorsports Park, Delhi, 99-165 project, Turlock Golf & Country Club, Hilmar & Stevinson

Sewers plug up the plans for Delhi...Garth Stapley
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13240225p-13875848c.html
A small water and sewer district with a record of chronic environmental violations appears to stand in the path of this town's hope to become a real city. Incorporation could follow huge shopping centers — with a treasure chest of sales taxes — envisioned in Delhi's recently adopted growth plan. But any new stores, not to mention 5,500 more homes, depend on adequate sewer capacity. Home builders hoping to mine gold from the future growth explosion say they are increasingly irritated with foot dragging by the Delhi County Water District... Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board says Delhi's plant for years has discharged into the earth twice the maximum amount of organic matter allowed by law. 'District has not moved forward'...Bert Van Voris, a supervising engineer with the water quality control board, said the plant also polluted groundwater when nitrates leached from a pile of solids mucked from the plant's storage ponds. And, the plant needs more disposal land for the amount of wastewater it treats... Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who represents Delhi, described sewer board members as "real old school" and "always complaining." "The water board has the ability to lead the incorporation effort," Kelsey said. "But they're just contrary. They don't want to do anything."

Fresno Bee
Revving up air district. Regulators must become more aggressive in struggle for clean air...Editorial
http://www.fresnobee.com/274/story/26640.html
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has presided over some improvements in air quality since its inception in the early 1990s, but most of its achievements have been driven by outside influences, usually lawsuits by environmentalists or legislation from Sacramento...for example, new regulations governing pollution from Valley agriculture. A number of them have been put in place, against strong opposition from the ag community. But it wasn't the air district that pushed for those changes, it was state Sen. Dean Florez, who managed to get a package of legislation out of Sacramento that has done a great deal to reduce pollution from ag sources. Part of the air district's problem is structural...makeup of the district's governing board is dominated by politicians who are largely beholden to special interests, many of whom are more interested in protecting a profitable status quo than they are in cleaner air. There have been efforts to alter the makeup of the board by adding scientists and environmental voices to the panel, as well as permanent seats for representatives of the largest cities in the eight-county district. Those efforts have been fought tooth-and-nail by the county supervisors who dominate the governing board. The district's leaders have noted that they have no control over so-called "mobile sources," emissions from vehicles... That's true. Federal and state agencies are charged with regulating those emissions, and they haven't been go-getters themselves - especially the feds under the Bush administration. But the air district has been noticeably reticent when it comes to agitating for changes that might actually help reduce vehicular pollution. The district has a pulpit - why isn't it being used to bully recalcitrant federal and state officials into action? The clock is ticking for hundreds of thousands of Valley residents... Many people are fleeing, and others are not moving here because of the filthy air. The status quo is killing people. It's time for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to shift to a higher gear. If it can't, perhaps we need to trade it in on a newer, more aggressively air-friendly model.

1-27-07
Merced Sun-Star
Is John Condren really who he claims to be?...Corinne Reilly, Leslie Albrecht contributed to this story
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13237439p-13873173c.html
Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren has billed himself as a skilled corporate executive and entrepreneur who has successfully launched, managed and sold companies across the country and around the world. But a Sun-Star investigation into Condren's professional past has revealed another picture of the businessman who has promised to build a quarter-billion-dollar racetrack complex that could change the face of Merced County. It's marked by bankruptcies, failed businesses and unpaid debts. Some of the claims Condren has made about his professional past, as posted in a profile that appeared on RMP's Web site, are either embellished or false, the Sun-Star has found. The profile was altered to correct some of the inaccuracies on Wednesday, following inquiries from the Sun-Star. Controversy drew the spotlight...Since initial environmental reviews of Condren's proposal were released in November 2005, the project has become perhaps the most controversial in local history. The debate included little discussion of Condren's professional past and Condren has remained guarded about his background and the project's financial backing, twice declining interviews with the Sun-Star for a profile story. Numerous Web biography inaccuracies... Two bankruptcies were filed... Condren maintains his failed businesses and bankruptcies are no reflection on his ability to manage his current undertakings.A statement attributed to RMP's board of directors that Condren sent the Sun-Star this week said RMP's "board and the company's investors and shareholders are extremely pleased with the integrity, honesty, focus, leadership and resolve shown by Mr. Condren over the last six-and-one-half years that he has led the company."

Farmland skyrocketed in value in racetrack plan...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13237445p-13873182c.html
While the debate over the Riverside Motorsports Park grabbed headlines last year, another story quietly unfolded: how a swath of farmland tucked behind a decommissioned Air Force base, a chicken ranch, and a federal prison came to be worth $12 million. The following timeline traces how it happened.
1930s: The Morimoto family, Japanese farmers, settle in Merced County. They acquire the property northeast of the future Castle Air Force Base over the next several decades, according to the cultural resources section of the Riverside Motorsports Park environmental impact report....1999: The Morimotos propose building a 376-acre industrial park called Pacific ComTech on the property adjacent to Castle Air Force Base...Oct. 5, 2001: John Condren registers Riverside Motorsports Park as a limited liability company with the California secretary of state...Oct. 16, 2002: The Airport Land Use Commission votes unanimously that Pacific ComTech Industrial Park is compatible with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan...Late 2002: John Condren pitches his racetrack idea to The Nicholson Co...Dec. 17, 2002: The Board of Supervisors approves Pacific ComTech Industrial Park...Jan. 17, 2003: Two local environmental groups, the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water, file a lawsuit against the county over the approval of the Pacific ComTech Industrial Park...March 18, 2003: The Nicholson Co. creates a partnership called Race Ranch LP ...March 20, 2003: Race Ranch LP buys the 1,300 acres adjacent to Castle from the Morimotos for $5,143,000...March 25, 2003: Race Ranch LP takes out a $4,225,000 mortgage on the property with Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco...April 8, 2003: The Board of Supervisors meets in closed session and approves a settlement agreement with the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water. The settlement reverses approval of Pacific ComTech Park. The property reverts to agricultural zoning and is removed from the Castle Specific Urban Development Plan area....Aug. 12, 2003: Riverside Motorsports Park LLC publicly announces plans to build...Oct. 1, 2003: The Airport Land Use Commission votes unanimously that the Riverside Motorsports Park is not compatible with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan...Nov. 2005: Merced County releases the draft environmental impact report...September 2006: John Condren registers another LLC, called RMP Agricultural Group, with the Secretary of State...
Dec. 12, 2006: The Board of Supervisors votes on the first series of actions required to allow Riverside Motorsports Park to go forward. The environmental impact report is certified, the land is rezoned from agricultural to planned development and added to the Castle Specific Urban Development Plan, and the board overrules the Airport Land Use Commission's finding the RMP is not compatible with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan.
Dec. 18, 2006: Race Ranch LP sells the 1,300 acres near Castle to Riverside Motorsports Park LLC for $12,254,000.
Dec. 18, 2006: Riverside Motorsports Park LLC takes out a $12,500,000 mortgage with Missouri-based First Bank. Condren would not say how much his mortgage payments will be, but he says the profits from 700 acres of almonds on the land and rent paid by farmers leasing the land will cover them.
Dec. 19, 2006: The Board of Supervisors casts final votes to approve the Riverside Motorsports Park by approving the General Plan amendment. RMP has two years to submit a development plan to the county. If it does not meet that deadline, the Board of Supervisors must vote on whether to reverse the zoning and land-use changes approved for RMP, said county spokesman Mark Hendrickson. As the zoning stands now, only a raceway complex can be built on the RMP site. "If they wanted go out there and build a shopping mall, they couldn't do it, it would have to be a multi-venue racetrack," said Hendrickson.
Dec. 21, 2006: Riverside Motorsports Park LLC leases the 1,300 acres to Hull Farms LLC, another company under The Nicholson Company. According to the lease memorandum filed in the county recorder's office, Hull Farms has an option to buy the land that expires in November 2009. Hull Farms and RMP also signed a subordination agreement that says if First Bank forecloses on RMP's mortgage, the lease remains intact, including Hull Farms' option to purchase the land. Both Condren and The Nicholson Company say it's unlikely Hull Farms will exercise its option to buy the 1,300 acres. The option, Condren said, was included in the lease as a "safety valve" in case the Board of Supervisors did not approve the project. Condren said he has no intention of selling the land. Why would I ever put myself in a position to lose the property after we worked so many years?" Condren said. "Why would I sell it when I can build a motorsports park there that's worth way more? Tenacity is my middle name." Condren predicted that the raceway complex will be up and running by the time Hull Farms' option to buy expires. The Nicholson Company could help construct some buildings on the RMP site, said Craig Nicholson, but no formal agreement is in place. Condren also offered The Nicholson Company "membership options" in Riverside Motorsports Park LLC, but The Nicholson Company is not a partner in RMP at this point, Nicholson said.
Jan. 18, 2007: The San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources, and the California Farm Bureau Federation sue the county over the Board of Supervisors' approval of Riverside Motorsports Park. All four groups say the county failed to adequately study RMP's environmental impacts.

1-26-07
Merced Sun-Star
He's all revved up, part 2...Loose Lips
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13232983p-13869661c.html
Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren was apparently "angry and saddened" that someone leaked one of his e-mail messages to Loose Lips last week.
Well, it's happened again.
Here's the message Condren fired off after he found out his e-mail had entered the public domain:
"Gentlemen:
Five minutes ago, I received a telephone call from a reporter at the Merced Sun-Star who stated that their Editor, Mr. Joe Kieta, just handed her a copy of the e-mail I sent out yesterday announcing that RMP had reached a settlement with the Bureau of Prisons and was close to securing a settlement with Foster Farms. She was looking for additional comment.
This e-mail was sent to you -- a very select few -- in confidence to keep you up to date on the RMP project's progress. To that, the legal notice at the bottom of this, and every e-mail sent by RMP, is not placed there solely to take up space on the page. I am sending this e-mail to the 15 of you who were sent the original message. It is now clear that a trust has been broken. I can only assume that other confidential information that I have entrusted within the "leaders of the community" has also been disseminated, including the current campaign to stop the legal action taken against Merced County and RMP by the Farm Bureau.
I am both angry and saddened by this event.
I have notified the Sun-Star that any use, quotation or dissemination of the information within that e-mail will result in legal action by RMP.
John Condren"
Lips would like the "leaders of the community" to know that they are always welcome to send "confidential information" our way.

1-24-07
Merced Sun-star
RMP delay costs all of us...Roger Wood, Atwater...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13226018p-13863438c.html
Now that the Board of Supervisors has completed its actions to approve Riverside Motorsports Park, the big question for the future is, what will the opponents do next? The project created the largest environmental impact report in the county's history (even bigger than the UC Merced report). The opponents were given substantial time to speak to the board about their concerns. I along with many others believe that the opponents (at least some of them) will now try to stop the RMP through some sort of legal action. What will be the result of the possible litigation? The first thing...project will be delayed. The second thing...RMP will be forced to spend a substantial amount of money to defend itself. What is the effect of the possible litigation on the great majority of citizens of Merced County who support RMP? Number one is that we will not get to enjoy the benefits of RMP... A second... we may not get as good a project as has been planned by RMP. Perhaps RMP will find a site somewhere else... I encourage the opponents to stop their opposition to the RMP and participate in the annual reviews that have been set up as part of the county's permit process. These annual reviews are intended to correct problems as they develop. We need to remember that it is in RMP's best interests to remedy any problems that develop. They do have a business to run. Recurring problems are not conducive to a successful business.

1-19-07
Badlandsjournal.com
(from a Merced Sun-Star article that does not seem to be posted on its website now)
After the Merced County Farm Bureau announced plans to sue the county over its approval of the $230 million, 1,200-acre racetrack proposal, RMP CEO John Condren put out a call to arms.
In an e-mail message sent Wednesday afternoon to business heavies Steve Newvine, Julius Pekar, Doug Fluetsch, Robert Rodarte, Bob Carpenter and Bob Rucker, Condren wrote the following. We quote without editing:
“Good day to all -I am pleased to report that RMP has reached a settlement with the US Bureau of Prisons and is close to having a settlement with Foster Farms. Keep your fingers crossed on that one. To date, the Merced County Farm Bureau is the only legal challenge we face. Regarding the Merced County Farm Bureau, they have filed a Notice of Action against Merced County (referencing the RMP EIR) that gives them 10 days to file their actual lawsuit.
Countering this move, our very own Scott Reisdorfer has initiated a campaign to pressure the Farm Bureau to withdraw their lawsuit. Scott has made contact, and continues to make contact, with various farming and ag members and ag-based organizations that are proponents of RMP. All have agreed to inundate the Farm Bureau’s offices with phone calls, fax and e-mails demanding that the Farm Bureau back-down.
If you can help with this campaign, please do so! Thanx - John Condren” --

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

Submitted: Jan 23, 2007

Dear Dr. Kang,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A reliable man

Submitted: Dec 31, 2006

A day after triumphantly ramming the Riverside Motorsparts Pork project through the Merced County Board of Supervisors, the Merced public was amused -- what else could it be? -- to learn that Board Chairman Mike Nelson had been appointed chair of something called the San Joaquin Valleywide Air Pollution Study Group. He already serves on the governing board of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District. As near as we can figure, this study group is associated with either the San Joaquin Valley Partnership or the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint, and with a group of countywide transportation agencies -- in other words, with one or more of the shadowy layers of regional quasi-governmental bodies lying over the Valley like stacked layers on a GIS map of proliferating decision makers, each farther than the last from public accountability.

Nelson can be relied upon to obstruct every state and federal air pollution regulation standing in the way of the slurbification of the San Joaquin Valley. As he said of the racetrack, it will be his political "legacy."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has designated the Valley as one of only two severe non-attainment air basins in the nation, the other being Los Angeles. If the Valley doesn't meet standards by 2013, it could lose millions in federal highway funds and face even stiffer regulation. California Air Resources Board and the local air control district estimate that this air basin will fall short of 2013 targets by 50 to 80 percent. Although agriculture has made real improvements on stationary sources of emission, mobile sources account for by far the largest amount of air pollution in the Valley.

Valley environmental and civic groups filed suit last week against the EPA, alleging that the agency based its most recent decision about Valley air quality on cooked data. (It is a strong affirmation of human intelligence that petitioners in this suit believe the Bush EPA even knows what data are, at this point in the Great Crusader's reign.)

The Valley has one irreducible problem: it cannot grow without adding more air pollution unless it decides to go to transport by bicycle, ox cart and one-horse shay. The Valley economic response to this inconvenience has been to play host to a huge speculative housing boom, now busting about our ears, its credit fallout still to be determined. The Valley political response has been a concerted attack by its political classes on any and all environmental law, regulation and state and federal agencies. This attack was epitomized by the late, unlamented Pomboza, the duo of congressmen from the north San Joaquin Valley who tried, in return for sizeable contributions from a handful of developers, to gut the Endangered Species Act. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, the hindquarters of the late Pomboza, had tried twice before to gut provisions in the ESA that established critical habitat areas for endangered species, with focused attention on the 15 endangered species that live in or around vernal pools.

The Valley politicians, slavishly quoted by the Valley media, spare no opportunity to blast people trying to protect vernal pools and their species. To which, one will reply that the lines between protecting endangered species and protecting public health and safety are drawing too close together for comfort. Every acre containing vernal pools that is kept in grazing is an acre that is not producing air pollution.

Other Valley counties, perhaps somewhat chastened by childhood asthma rates three and four times the national average, have turned lately to the corrupt cowboys of Merced to lead them on these proliferating groups, boards, partnerships and blueprints emanating from a state legislature as firmly in the grip of the finance, insurance and real estate sector (FIRE) as a century ago it was in the grip of the railroads.

Right now, it looks like FIRE, Inc. is promoting Nelson to trail boss for his fine work of ramrodding the Riverside Motorsparts Pork project through by ambushing the public process at every turn in the trail.

One can hear the comments in the financial, insurance and real estate boardrooms: "Mike Nelson, a reliable man."

How else is the public expected to understand this appointment?

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

Merced County...Press Release...12-20-06
http://www.co.merced.ca.us/newsletter/documents/NewsRelease122006-NelsonAirDistrict.pdf

SUPERVISOR NELSON APPOINTED CHAIR OF AIR STUDY GROUP
Valleywide Group to Study Air Quality Issues Facing the Region

MERCED – Merced County Supervisor Mike Nelson has been appointed to Chair the San Joaquin Valleywide Air Pollution Study Group. Supervisor Nelson already serves on the Governing Board of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District.
Supervisor Nelson commented, “I’m honored to Chair this important study group, which affects all the residents of the San Joaquin Valley. I’m particularly pleased that I’ll be able to continue to expand and push for the priorities of Merced County, as part of the overall plan for the San Joaquin Valley. I look forward to working with the members of the study group.”
The Valleywide Air Pollution Study Agency is a cooperative research effort on behalf of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare counties. It was formed in 1986 to develop and direct air pollution studies on ozone and other air pollutants affecting the San Joaquin Valley and adjacent air basins.
For more information regarding Merced County, please visit our website at www.co.merced.ca.us

12-29-06
Merced Sun-Star
Fresno Bee
EPA sued for Valley air ruling.
..Bee staff and wire services
http://www.fresnobee.com/263/v-printerfriendly/story/21345.html
The environmental law group Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Latino Issues Forum, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and three chapters of the Sierra Club. Plaintiffs are asking the court to review the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that the Valley's air was no longer polluted by PM-10 — tiny pollution particles just 10 microns wide — because it hadn't violated the PM-10 standard in three years...they also planned to file a separate petition today with the EPA asking the federal agency to reconsider its own finding. Environmental groups previously had accused the EPA of ignoring data from certain air pollution monitors in making its decision because the monitors were not officially part of the federally sanctioned network. The new accusation involves three other monitors, which the EPA does recognize. The Earthjustice petition to the EPA said high levels of small particles were detected at the three monitors on Sept.22, about a month before the agency ruled that the Valley had met the standard for the prior three years. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Planning Director Scott Nester defended the EPA's action... Hall complained that even if the environmental groups prevail in court, the EPA's October finding will put an indefinite hold on further controls. "Our fate is in the hands of the Bush EPA,"...The agency's action, he said, "stops the rulemaking...

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Public letter in opposition to the Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Nov 14, 2006

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

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

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

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

1. Development Plan and Administrative Permit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Airport Land Use Commission decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Immediate issues of public information access

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

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

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

5. Failure to consult federal resource agencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Moratorium until General Plan Update

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

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

8. Conclusion

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

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

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

Sincerely,

Lydia Miller Steve Burke

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

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

Cc: Interested parties
BadlandsJournal

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