San Joaquin Valley

Andale pues, McPendejo

Submitted: Jun 21, 2007
...McNerney's bill would authorize $90 million a year between 2008 and 2012 to support geothermal research at two centers, one in the West and the other in the East.

"There's definitely a chance that one of the plants would be located in Northern California," McNerney said. "It's important that the rocks are suitable for this. They must have fissures and cracks so you can circulate water through them."

Jeff Tester, a professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agrees. "There's a high probability for a research center in Northern California" he said. "One reason is that the demand for the energy that is created is relatively close by." -- SF Chronicle, June 19, 2007

Rep. Jerry "I'm Not Pombo" McNerney, Lambkin-Pleasanton, also got into the San Joaquin County press this week with an article about how his office helped a woman get a passport.

Meanwhile, the candidate that could bury the Lamb, Dean Andal, has recruited a Republican Hispanic group that refers to McNerney as McNada ("McNothing," to be exact in the press.) This attack excited one Anglo pro-McNerney blogger to refer to the group as part of a GOP anti-McNerney "cattle drive," followed by references to Pombo as "el vaquero." Nothing yet could more accurately confirm the impression among the 55 percent of McNerney's district in San Joaquin County that Jerry the Lamb is nothing but a gabacho with no manners. The blogger may have hit exactly on the only political tone guaranteed to unite San Joaquin County voters of all parties against McNerney.

A Democratic Party landslide in 2008 could produce more than 420 Democrats in the House, a handful of Independents, and Andal from the 11th CD of California. Today, this race is Andal's to lose.

The Lamb is facing two challenges. First, he has to get reelected or else all the people who worked against Pombo will be dejected. Secondly, he has to appear in some sense to protect his district from absolute menace. The UC/Bechtel/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, moving along in its decorous academic/corporate way at Site 300 outside Tracy, plans to blow up eight times more radioactivity on the site and establish a biodanger level 4 biowarfare lab there.

The Lamb is silent on thes subjects.

McNerney is revealing himself as a person far more at home with technocrats of weapons of mass destruction than he is with the people of his district or humanity for that matter -- which, in some communities, would mean he might be called "McPendejo."

The geothermal idea is visionary. However, Stockton just hired Pombo as its water lobbyist. The majority of McNerney's district are asking: Whose water are you committing to be pumped 30,000 feet into the earth to produce steam power for whose electricity?

Bill Hatch

San Francisco Chronicle
System using heat from ground to create electricity to be studied
Ralph Hermansson, Chronicle Staff Writer

With oil and natural gas prices soaring, the world seems to be searching for the next great source of energy. And while most people are looking to the heavens -- tapping solar and wind resources -- the answer may lie in the ground beneath our feet.

This subterranean source is known as geothermal energy and it's already being used to heat homes. Now, some lawmakers are pushing for an increase in research and development into the technology.

U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is sponsoring a bill that would support the development of this source of power that some people believe can eventually supply electricity to 75 million homes. And if McNerney succeeds, one of the research and development centers created to nurture geothermal energy might be located in Northern California.

The bill, the Advanced Geothermal Energy Research and Development Act of 2007, unanimously passed the House Committee on Science and Technology last week. Its aim is to develop enhanced geothermal energy, using the heat from the ground to create electricity.

Here's how it works: Using a closed system, cool water is pumped into hot, fractured rock reservoirs deep beneath the ground where the water is heated. The steam is pumped back to the surface to a turbine that is attached to a generator and produces electricity.

Some people already use a scaled-down version of this technique to heat their houses, but McNerney's proposal would create geothermal power on a much bigger scale. Instead of tapping heat out of a 200-foot hole in the ground, which is the way it is done for single-home heating systems, geothermal power plants would have holes more than 30,000 feet deep, using underground man-made reservoirs to house the water.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that such a system could provide more than 100 gigawatts of energy over the next 50 years, supporting 25 million of homes with power.

But that's still a way off. McNerney's bill would authorize $90 million a year between 2008 and 2012 to support geothermal research at two centers, one in the West and the other in the East.

"There's definitely a chance that one of the plants would be located in Northern California," McNerney said. "It's important that the rocks are suitable for this. They must have fissures and cracks so you can circulate water through them."

Jeff Tester, a professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agrees. "There's a high probability for a research center in Northern California" he said. "One reason is that the demand for the energy that is created is relatively close by."

Tester said that, unlike other environmentally friendly sources, geothermal energy does not depend on wind or sunshine. This system can provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity, day or night.

"This is definitely one of the arsenal of tools that will be needed in the future. I think we will need both solar, wind and geothermal energy," Tester said.

The bill has so far had bipartisan support and not caused any controversy. Most politicians seem to agree that alternative energy systems that can help reduce greenhouse gases are worth supporting.

That's why McNerney is optimistic about the future of the bill.

"It may be wrapped up in a bill with other energy-related questions, but I think it could be signed by the president before the end of this year," he said.

Karen Wayland, legislative director at the National Resources Defense Council, said McNerney's estimate is optimistic. "But I think the bill has pretty good chances," she said. "It will probably be part of the energy package that Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi will bring to the floor in July."

Her group supports the increased use of geothermal energy.

"Our only concern is that it doesn't alter the geography of places like Yellowstone (National Park)," she said. "Proper protection and adequate safeguards are always needed."

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The silence of the Lamb

Submitted: Jun 15, 2007

It will happen this way, now that the news cycle is over. One day, probably on a weekend this month, the Department of Homeland Security will announce that the UC/Bechtel/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory proposal to place a biodanger level-4 lab near Tracy at Site 300, an LLNL bombing range already laced with depleted uranium and tritium, will make the short list for biowarfare pork. LLNL also recently announced that it will be releasing eight times as much radioactivity in bomb tests this year on Site 300.

But never you mind, public, it’s all perfectly safe under UC and Bechtel management, just like security is perfect at Los Alamos National Laboratory, managed by the same win-win, public-private partnership.

Meanwhile, the congressman for the district, Jerry “The Lamb” McNerney, has been on about a veterans hospital out of his district in Livermore, signing a pledge to make his earmarks public information, and opining that lobbyists shouldn’t be on PACs contributing money, at least to Himself, the Lamb. His ardent supporters out in the blogosphere have been defending him for these radically moral stands, because the Lamb is not Pombo. One assumes he did not do his graduate work in the higher mathematics of political money. Failing to provide any leadership in opposition of the biowarfare lab, which might have energized his core supporters in the 11th CD, the Lamb has probably been terribly impressed by those fine academic minds at the LLNL, just his sort of people, unlike the people in the district he represents.

And, of course, the biowarfare lab security will be perfect and there is no problem, whatsoever, about studying diseases lethal to poultry and cattle upwind from the greatest concentration of poultry and cattle in California. None, whatsoever. The biodanger level-4 designation is for the most deadly pathogens known on the planet. But these will be no problem for the citizens living near the biowarfare lab. None, whatsoever, because the security in these labs is perfect, which was explained so articulately in Michael Carroll’s Lab 257, about Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory.

Nevertheless, Marylia Kelley, executive director of Livermore-based Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment, reminded us today that occasionally security breaches occur, even at LLNL, where the new generation of nuclear warheads is being designed. In recent years, employees have lost keys to secure areas and have not informed top management sometimes for months, during which access to these high security areas could have been compromised. The Lab left open a four-lane gate for a weekend. The Department of Energy Inspector General recently reported that a significant number of LLNL former employees still have their security badges and their names still appear on rosters, “which is a huge security risk,” Kelley said.

“The Livermore lab has a history of major security breaches,” she added.

The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly said that it would take into account local opposition to the biowarfare lab. In Kelley’s view, there is no support for the biowarfare lab or the increase in radioactive explosives at Site 300 among the citizens of Tracy or nearby areas.

“Even where the lab has gotten official organizations for agriculture and elsewhere to support the biolab project,” Kelley said, “polls of the families those organizations represent would show significant opposition.”

“McNerney would do well to campaign against the biolab,” she said.

But Jerry the Lamb says nothing and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, says even less. If it is possible to be even less sensitive to the dangers of lethal war pork than the Lamb and the Shrimp Slayer, try the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Control District, which promises to hold a public hearing on the increase in radioactive explosives at the Tracy City Council chambers on June 26, at 7:30 p.m. This is the air board that approved a plan Thursday to put the San Joaquin Valley air basin in the worst air pollution category the federal government has a name for, in order to extend deadlines for cleaning up pollution so that the flow of federal highway funds will not be halted as a penalty for not attaining its air quality goals. Presumably, by 2026, the nation will have yet another category named to which the Valley can apply for further extensions and more growth-inducing highways. Perhaps it could be called the Radioactive Pathogenic WalMart Distribution Center/NASCAR level of non-attainment. Or simply, the San Joaquin Valley Level.

Dean Andal has announced he’s running against McNerney. It has been discovered that Andal is listed as a principle in Gerry Kamilos’ company, currently proposing to redevelop the former Naval Air Station at Crows Landing, downwind from Site 300, into a business park with a short-haul railroad. Andal, although a ferociously righwing ideologue, might have the brains to oppose the biowarfare lab and the radioactive bombing increases for simple self-preservation as well as self-enrichment. If Andal did oppose the Site 300 projects, he might find constituencies of support unique in his long, reactionary political career.

Yo, Dean, think Reinvention! A coalition awaits, and hey, maybe even Tsakopoulos O Megas would throw a few bucks your way.

Meanwhile, over the hill, the Lamb lives pleasantly in Pleasanton, breaking pencils over PACs full of lobbyists.

Badlands editorial staff

San Francisco Chronicle
Lab managers accused of security breach...Deborah Baker and Jennifer Talhelm, AP

Officials with the contractor that runs Los Alamos National Laboratory sent top-secret data regarding nuclear weapons through open e-mail networks, the latest potentially dangerous security breach to come to light at the birthplace of the atomic bomb, two congressmen said...breach was investigated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which rounded up laptop computers from Los Alamos National Security LLC's board members and sanitized them. But NNSA and lab officials who subsequently appeared before a congressional committee investigating security problems at the nuclear weapons lab never mentioned it, according to a letter the congressmen sent Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who heads the panel's oversight subcommittee, called that "unacceptable" and demanded an explanation. "This facility's mind-bogglingly poor track record makes me repeat my question: What do we do at Los Alamos that we cannot do elsewhere?" Stupak said Thursday. LANS, which took over the lab's operation, is made up of the lab's former manager, the University of California; Bechtel Corp.; and two other companies. The e-mail case, the latest to come to light, was reported to NNSA by a University of California official on Jan. 19, according to the congressmen. The breach occurred when a consultant to the LANS board, Harold Smith, sent an e-mail containing highly classified, non-encrypted nuclear weapons information to several board members, who forwarded it to other members, according to a Washington aide familiar with the investigation who asked not to be named because the information is sensitive. The notice went out that there had been a breach, an official was pulled out of a White House meeting and told, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory flew a team across California and recovered the laptops within six hours... Lawmakers were assured no damage was caused, according to the aide.

Los Alamos National Laboratory. Energy Dept. acknowledges lab's e-mail security lapse...Keay Davidson

The latest security breach was acknowledged Friday by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman after it was revealed by two congressmen. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who chairs the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, called the latest security lapse a fresh example of Los Alamos' "mind-bogglingly poor track record" on security issues. The scandal comes less than two years after the Energy Department awarded a consortium led by the University of California and Bechtel Corp. a new contract to run Los Alamos partly in order to prevent a repeat of numerous scandals involving the security of weapons information at the lab. The consortium operates under the name Los Alamos National Security LLC. A similar managerial consortium -- one that is also dominated by UC and Bechtel -- was selected May 8 to manage the nation's other nuclear weapons design lab, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore. "The UC-Bechtel consortium at Los Alamos has taken what was a bad managerial situation and made it a lot worse," said Marylia Kelley, head of Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, which is based in Livermore. "As long as the United States continues to design and develop new nuclear weapons, some of that information can and will leak out. ... Better management cannot solve that deeper problem." After the news leaked out, Dingell and Stupak wrote Bodman demanding to know why the breach wasn't reported to Congress for six months, even though an unidentified UC official informed the National Nuclear Security Administration of the breach on Jan. 19. The timing delay raises the question of whether another scandal is being covered up -- in effect, the possibility that authorities dragged their feet for almost six months investigating the security breach so that UC and Bechtel could win their joint bid for the Livermore contract without suffering any taint of scandal.

Fresno Bee
Critics unimpressed by smog-plan reform...Mark Grossi

State air officials on Thursday approved a much-criticized smog cleanup plan with a 2024 completion target for the San Joaquin Valley -- but they offered a concession to those who want a quicker fix. In the next six months, the California Air Resources Board will intensely study other pollution-cutting ideas for the Valley, such as banning older vehicles during dirty-air days. Based on the findings, the state air governing board may add more rules to speed up the cleanup. The critics...were not impressed. The state will send the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which also is expected to approve it. EPA approval would remove the threat of federal sanctions for the Valley, such as the delay of $2 billion in road-building funds. In addition, the Valley would become the first place in the nation to be classified in a category reserved for the worst smog offenders, based on how long a cleanup would take.

Monterey Herald
Nuke weapons workers denied...Michael Alison Chandler and Joby Warrick...Washington Post

Hidden costs...Since its inception in 2000, the compensation program has cut more than 20,000 checks and given long-delayed recognition to workers whose illnesses were hidden costs of the Cold War's military buildup...of the 72,000 cases processed, more than 60 percent have been denied. Thousands of other applicants have been waiting for years for an answer. Overall, only 21 percent of applicants have received checks. Even as the nation continues to close and dismantle many nuclear weapons sites, a growing number of those who helped build the bombs are turning to lawyers and legislators to argue they are being treated unfairly. Many complain that the compensation process is slow, frustrating, even insulting. "You get exposed to something that's so bad you have to leave your clothes behind," McKenzie said, "then they try to tell you it's not their fault that you got sick." Feds call program a success...Some evidence suggests the government has tried to limit payouts for budget reasons. Internal memos obtained by congressional investigators show the Bush administration chafing over the program's rising costs and fighting to block measures that would increase workers' chances of compensation. Labor Department officials who oversee the program say it has been successful, pointing to the large sums distributed: about $2.6 billion in payments in five years, far more than some early estimates. Missing or unreliable records and the murkiness of cancer science, the officials say, make it difficult to satisfy all the claimants. 'Normal beans'...Still, Labor's management of the program has drawn bipartisan, and often fierce, criticism from members of Congress. Former congressman John Hostettler, an Indiana Republican who chaired a House subcommittee overseeing the program, said at a hearing last December that Labor Department memos reflect a "culture of disdain" toward workers and raise questions about whether the department exceeded its authority by using "legalistic interpretations" to limit eligible workers. Scant records...The estimates are based largely on personnel files and historical radiation measurements at the plants. But the records are often so incomplete and unreliable that it can be impossible to determine a worker's true exposure. "At every site, you hear stories about workers being told to put their badges in their lockers," said Mark Griffon, a radiation-safety expert who advises the government on worker exposure. "If workers wore their badges and ended up exceeding their quarterly radiation limit, they could be laid off or put in a different job." Another obstacle is that records are becoming harder to track as plants are dismantled. The compensation program does provide a path for the government to help workers if records are lost or questionable. But critics say officials are reluctant to pursue it. No special status...So far, groups of workers from 18 sites have been added to the special exposure cohort, and petitions are pending for workers from a dozen other sites. The process can be difficult... Denver site...plant gone, many workers are struggling to re-create what happened. Many applicants who were denied blame missing or inadequate records and petitioned two years ago for special cohort status.

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An open financial wound of unknown consequence

Submitted: Jun 13, 2007

The north San Joaquin Valley has gained another first. No doubt, Modesto-based UC/Great Valley Center is ecstatic to see that its "smart growth" agenda has been so hugely successful. Our area is now the nation's leader in mortgage foreclosures as the San Joaquin Valley bids to surpass Los Angeles as the worst air pollution region in the nation. The north San Joaquin Valley is now a suppurating financial wound for finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Who knows how far the infection will spread?

Our region was so convulsed by greed in a speculative housing boom that the Pomboza (representatives Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced and former Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy), backed by cash raised by Fritz Grupe, Stockton's preeminent developer and the active co-chair of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, were determined to break the back of the Endangered Species Act in order to build out on all those seasonal pastures that provide the existing residents of the Valley with their watersheds and what clean air still exists.

Who do you blame?

Let's start with who you can't quite blame. You can't blame a realtor for doing her job. You can't blame a mortgage lender for selling another subprime mortgage, and you can't blame a family for getting in on the American Dream of Home Ownership even if they can't pay for it or understand the mortgage that enables it. You cannot blame the Silicon Valley retirees for taking the advice of their financial consultants to roll over their 401Ks in the hottest real estate market in America. You'd be unwise to blame the flippers, because, hey, there was a market that encouraged flipping.

But, you can blame government that is supposed to look out for the common good, despite the cynical claim that the concept of the common good no longer exists. If the government doesn't look out for the common good, the common people are going to have to rise again, somehow, in a disciplined political movement intent on one aim: Throwing the bums out.

Government in Merced County cannot deny it was told. It cannot deny that critical, well informed, citizens spoke in public hearings on development for the last eight years, starting with UC Merced, the anchor tenant for this whole real estate feeding frenzy that has ended as a national disgrace to American financial prudence. Government, local land-use authorities, and only local land-use authorities, had the duty and the power to resist this obscene greed fest. And the governance of elected officials at the federal, state and local levels abdicated the dignity of their offices and enabled the addiction to real estate speculation that has produced this.

Local land-use authorities cannot deny that they have been presented documents filled with substantial arguments against the path they took. They cannot deny they have been sued by their own public on numerous occasions -- and sued more often successfully than not -- on these issues. Elected officials of local land-use authorities have been well and fully warned of the consequences of their decisions.

But, these warnings were delivered largely by environmentalists. Due to their psychotic hatred for environmentalists, elected officials did not listen, could not hear, other warnings. Finance, insurance and real estate special interests charged forward, enthused with their own mythology, and government rolled over, sold out and abdicated its regulatory function. A land-use authority is supposed to regulate land use. These bums opened the doors to a frenzy of speculation.

We aren't talking about a lack of wisdom here. We are talking about a lack of the most elemental common sense.

Below, find one of our more recent cautionary letters to the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Below the letter, you will find the latest report on the shameful irresponsibility of government in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties, all lying within the district of Cardoza, the rear end of the Pomboza. Now that Pombo has become a lobbyist in Cardoza's district, no one can say the Pomboza is dead. Electoral defeat has only encouraged the beast.

Reckless, wholesale destruction of natural resources, at least in the San Joaquin Valley, is a recipe for financial destruction as well. John Muir's refrain haunts the boardrooms: "All things hang together."

Badlands editorial board

To: Opponents of the Riverside Motorsports Park
From: Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Date: Nov. 10, 2006
Re: Join us in calling for a moratorium on projects like RMP, Wal-Mart, the UC Community Plan, the UC Parkway and other growth, destructive to agriculture, communities and the environment, until Merced County has fully and legally updated its General Plan.
Calling for a moratorium on growth is a drastic step. However, we ask you to join the 16 groups that have already called for it, for the following reasons:
· Merced County has been amending its General Plan, approved before UC Merced was conceived, to make way for every project developers, County planning commissioners and the Board of Supervisors desire. Although there is an update process working now, despite a public call to halt development until the process was completed three of the largest, highest impact projects will receive county approval before a new general plan is in place – RMP, Wal-Mart, the UC Community Plan, and the UC Parkway and others.
· Meanwhile, a mile-long, 42-inch sewer trunk line heading south out of Livingston, lies buried, uninspected and unpermitted in County jurisdiction awaiting subdivisions on prime farmland to serve.
· Meanwhile, thousands of acres of seasonal pasture containing federally listed endangered species have been deep-ripped without any permits and put into orchards and vineyards to hold for future subdivisions.
· Meanwhile, cities and communities update their general plans, expand their sewers and spheres of influence without reference to a coherent county General Plan.
· Meanwhile, the Merced County Association of Governments – despite its third defeat in trying to get residents to hike their sales taxes to pay for more growth-inducing roads – goes on furiously planning more roads.
· Meanwhile, by the ceaseless political meddling of the Great Valley Center in partnership with UC Merced, there is a whole parallel state planning drive, called variously the San Joaquin Valley Partnership and/or Blueprint.
· Meanwhile, the San Joaquin Valley air basin continues to be in severe non-attainment of its quality goals and is today the worst air-polluted farming area in America.
· Meanwhile, our officials ceaselessly blabber about the “inevitability of growth.”

Special interests are in the process of creating a planning map for Merced County created out of continual overlays. The purpose is to create a GIS planning map from Hell to provide a perpetual motion machine of non-accountability for the growth of slurb.
So, why not try something new and comprehensible: Just say NO to more growth until our leaders produce a fully legally compliant county General Plan to guide future growth in Merced County?
Central Valley Safe Environment Network

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
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 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

Modesto Bee
Foreclosures: Valley leads nation

We're worst in the nation. That's what home mortgage foreclosure statistics reveal for the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
The region's foreclosure rates were nearly seven times higher than the national average in May, according to data gathered by RealtyTrac.

San Joaquin County had the highest percentage of properties in default on their mortgages. Merced County was second-highest. Stanislaus County was third.

"I'm surprised at how high your foreclosure numbers are. They've really jumped," said Daren Blomquist, spokesman for RealtyTrac, which publishes a national database of properties facing foreclosure. "You've got an exponential increase."

That's for sure.

Just two years ago, foreclosures in the valley were virtually unheard of. Now they're a daily occurrence.

For example: In Stanislaus County during May 2005 there were just 78foreclosure filings, most of which were notices of default, which is the first step in the process. This May, those filings skyrocketed to 1,278. That's more than 16 times higher than two years ago.

Merced County foreclosure filings are a whopping 31 times higher, rising from 22 two years ago to 688 last month.

San Joaquin County filings are 18 times higher, rising from 120 to 2,157.

By comparison, nationwide foreclosure filings are 2.4 times higher than two years ago.

The vast majority of homeowners who enter the foreclosure process traditionally have been able to get out of it without losing everything. They could refinance their mortgages or sell their homes before the bank took over.

That's no longer the case. Statistics from RealtyTrac show massive jumps in the number of homes being repossessed by lenders.

"People have gotten into home mortgages that stretch them too thin," Blomquist said. "They were anticipating home values continuing to go up, so they could bail themselves out by selling or refinancing. But the market is not cooperating now."

Homeowners these days often owe more than their homes are worth, so there's no easy way to escape their mortgage burden. As a result, increasing numbers of homeowners who fall behind on payments are having their homes taken over by lenders.

Last month in Stanislaus County, 162 homes were repossessed. In May 2006, no homes were lost that way.

Lenders have taken over so many homes, in fact, that they're flooding the resale housing market with so-called distressed properties.

Forty-seven of those lender-owned homes will be put up for auction June 25 in Modesto, with starting bids as low as $89,000. That auction, by the Real Estate Disposition Corp., has many starting prices at less than half the home's previous value.

"Those auctions are an indication that lenders are more desperate to get rid of those (repossessed) homes," Blomquist said. He said buyers are getting harder to find. "A lot of investors are very gun-shy about getting into this market right now."

Homeowners are having a hard time finding any kind of buyer.

Only 774 homes have been sold in Modesto this year compared with 1,548 at the same time last year, according to the Central Valley Association of Realtors.

New home sales also have plummeted. In Stanislaus County, only 82 new houses sold this April compared with 212 in April 2006, according to the California Building Industry Association.

And home values continue to fall.

The Realtors association reports that the median-priced Modesto home sold for $325,000. That's $18,000 less than at this time last year.

In Stanislaus County, new homes in April sold for a base price of $429,990, which was $16,000 less than last year, the building association reported.

Another sign of the real estate market's troubles is the rising rate of delinquent property taxes.

In Stanislaus County, nearly 7.7 percent of landowners have yet to pay their 2006-2007 property taxes, which were due in April. Tax Collector Gordon Ford said that delinquency rate is on track to set a record.

Many of the region's real estate woes are expected to be discussed today at the Valley Real Estate & Economics Conference at the DoubleTree Hotel in Modesto.

That conference will include sessions on what's ahead for the region's real estate market and investment opportunities. The event starts at 7:30 a.m.; tickets are $50 at the door.

staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.

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Massacre on the Delta

Submitted: Jun 09, 2007

"The collapse of the Delta Estuary is really a regulatory collapse." Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

But the regulatory process doesn't collapse all by itself. Delta fish populations were declining 15 years ago. Collapses began a few years ago. Meanwhile, CALFED met to "fix the Delta." The collapses occurred while regulators dithered, environmental stakeholders groups bought into a collaborative process, water agencies sued, and Bush appointees and federal and state legislators muscled resource agencies and starved them of funds.

In Merced, where local, state and federal government officials have continued to buy off most of the public with "citizen" collaborative processes, lawsuits and grassroots campaigns have been successful in stopping some environmental destruction.

The idea of CALFED was to bring state and federal resource agencies, stakeholders and environmental groups together in a collaborative process of regional planning. CALFED failed completely. Yet, today, the governor has initiated two new collaborative planning processes, the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley in new efforts to stave off environmental lawsuits against ruinous urban growth. The Blueprint and the Partnership will come to be called the children of CALFED.

At the moment, while Congressman Cardoza alarms Lathrop city officials about the terrors of FEMA floodplain maps and poses in farming districts as the savior of the Honey Bee, former Congressman Pombo signs with Stockton to lobby on water issues, and witless Congressman McNerney sojourns in Livermore, Jennings brings us up to date on the slaughter in the Delta...

Much attention has been focused on the expanded salvage numbers of Delta smelt, as identified by DFG, DWR and Bureau representatives in the press. Unfortunately, they have misled the public regarding the actual numbers of smelt killed by the pumps. The real number of smelt killed by the pumps is not 448 (208 by the SWP and 240 by the CVP), but closer to 11,000 smelt killed during May. It is this number that must be compared to the handful of fish found in the Delta by DFG during the May trawls.

I became curious about agency claims after reading a 1994 article in the SacBee by Jim Meyer that quoted DFG biologist Dale Sweetman as saying, “The actual fish kill is at least 12 times the number of fish salvaged” because since “they can’t measure how many fish are killed, the pump’ operators use the number of fish saved by screens as a gauge to estimate the loss.”

I asked biologist Dan Odenweller (retired DFG chief of screening) about the actual killed versus salvaged rates. Dan pointed out that only an estimated 5% of fish are actually diverted around the first set of fish screens to the secondary channel and only about 5% of those are then diverted around the second set of screens to the salvage buckets. In other words, about 99.5% of smelt are neither “salvaged” nor counted. They continue down the DMC toward the Tehachapis. Of course, none of the “salvaged” Delta smelt survive and these numbers don’t include the larval stage of smelt (less than 20 mm) that can’t be detected. Added to the smelt that pass unrecorded through the screens, is the large number killed by predators in Clifton Court Forebay before they get to the pump inlet. The federal facility is somewhat different and doesn’t experience the same degree of predation as the SWP.

Attached is a simple model developed by Odenweller. Based on his best professional judgment, Dan estimates that CVP pumping killed approximately 2,896 smelt during May and the SWP pumping (assuming forebay predation for smelt is the same as salmon) killed 8,533, for an approximate total of 11,429. This is far different that the 448 smelt killed by pumps that we’ve seen widely quoted in the press. The bottom line is that, during May, the project pumps killed somewhere in the vicinity of 300 times the number of smelt DFG found in surveys throughout the Delta.

I’m sure everyone remembers that the CalFed ROD promised state of the art fish screens. That was before the water contractors bluntly stated that they wouldn’t pay for them.

With respect to the current surveys, the 2007 Survey #6 is finished and most of the information has been posted (as of Sunday night). This latest survey found smelt at 6 sites (115 trawls) with a total catch per unit equivalent (CPUE) of 18.28. This compares to last year’s Survey #6 that found smelt at 19 sites (121 trawls) with a total CPUE of 1,273.8. I haven’t seen the total numbers of smelt captured posted but, using the CPUE as an indicator, it’s clear that this year’s Survey #6 shows a massive drop from the corresponding survey last year. Indeed, it’s clear that DFG found far fewer smelt in this year’s Survey #6 than the paltry 25 smelt identified in the immediately preceding Survey #5. The splittail and longfin numbers also reveal a dramatic drop from last year. Striped bass look about the same.

With respect to the alleged reduction (minimized) in pumping at the federal CVP that was almost universally touted in the press, I note that export rate during the first two days in June is exactly the same as pumping throughout May (1,692 Acre Feet, 855 cfs). Farmers get their water despite adverse effects on Delta smelt; municipalities scramble to find supplies from storage. Sound familiar?

Bill Jennings, Chairman
Executive Director
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
3536 Rainier Avenue
Stockton, CA 95204
p: 209-464-5067
c: 209-938-9053
f: 209-464-1028
e: deltakeep [at]

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FEMA floodplain maps redux

Submitted: Jun 02, 2007

On June 1, the Lathrop Sun-Post reported that Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced paid the Lathrop City Council a visit on May 29 to warn Lathropians that the Federal Emergency Management Agency "is in the process of redrawing flood-plain maps and casting more stringent levee requirements in a post-Hurricane Katrina, climate-changing world ..."

Alarming them with pictures of immanent catastrophe, Cardoza urged the council to participate in a "regional approach" to ensure flood protection.
The Sun-Post goes on to mention that former Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy just signed a $100,000 contract with Stockton to lobby for state and federal flood-protection funds.

When we hear about the "regional approach," our minds instantly turn to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. This "regional" commission, appointed two years ago by the governor, is co-chaired by Fritz Grupe, Stockton's premiere developer. Several months before Grupe was appointed to lead this regional planning effort, he hosted a fund-raising luncheon for Pombo and Cardoza. The two split about $50,000 in developer contributions and launched their next assault on the Endangered Species Act before the end of that year. They also earned the name "Pomboza" to connote their "aggressive
bipartisanship on the House Resources Committee. Since the Democratic Party took over Congress last year, the committee's earlier title, Natural Resources, has been restored.

However, another part of the mysterious political movements of the Pomboza and the regional Mr. Grupe was the successful July 2006 move by Pombo and Cardoza to block the new FEMA flood plain maps on the Delta area, at least until after the November 2006 election.

Sacramento Bee
Reality bites…Editorial…7-2-06

Delaying release of FEMA maps would help politicians, not communities at risk. Egged onby developers and local politicians seeking re-election, several Central Valley congressmen are urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay the release of updated maps that will provide homeowners and businesses a more accurate picture of flood risks. FEMA should resist this pressure. The government hasn’t updated most of these maps for 20 years, despite several damaging — and revealing — floods during that period. The
problem is that new maps frighten local officials… Given the money at stake, it’s highly suspicious that U.S. Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and other lawmakers are urging FEMA to delay the release of preliminary maps. As Cardoza notes, these FEMA maps are preliminary. The reason for releasing them is so communities can review them, debate them and understand how they might affect insurance and land-use plans before any final versions are approved. FEMA recently bowed to pressure in remapping flood plains in New Orleans, putting thousands at risk. It shouldn’t do the
same here — especially not for a handful of politicians who would rather enhance their
re-election chances than face the realities of floods.

Lurching back to the present, Grupe Investments, AG Spanos Construction and the Delta Building Industry Association are suing the City of Stockton, claiming that the city is discriminating against developers by demanding they pay fees to preserve farm land at a 1:1 mitigation ratio. This reminds us that the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley is really simply a partnership between developers and politicians for more irresponsible urban development in the Valley.

To wrap it up, Cardoza, acting on behalf of Pombo, Grupe, Spanos and other developers in San Joaquin County, scares the bejeezuz out of the Lathrop City Council about those dreaded FEMA floodplain maps that cannot fail to discourage more development on the Delta. (At least Lathrop is in Cardoza's district, which we misreported as being in McNerney's yesterday.)Meanwhile, McNerney jumped to Rep. Ellen Tauscher's district to talk up a VA hospital in Livermore.

None of these Congress persons are saying a word in opposition to the biowarfare lab that UC/Bechtel et al/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to build on Site 300, the bomb-testing range outside Tracy. Perhaps, when the proposal makes the short list this month, the Pomboza, McNerney and Tauscher can all join hands and declare a Valley War Pork Month.

Badlands editorial staff

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Sonny Star: full of bull and applepie

Submitted: May 20, 2007
About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction. More than ever, we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. -- Merced Sun-Star, May 19, 2007

This ration of the well-known substance was dished out via Sonny Star, McClatchy's local rent-a-rag, by Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, who began his flak during a breezy week by saying:

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation.

Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. On April 30, the Air District's governing board adopted the first eight-hour ozone plan in California. This overarching and comprehensive plan is designed to help the Valley attain cleaner air, as measured by the federal smog standard, as expeditiously as practicable. The regulatory cost to businesses will be about $20 billion. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air.

Sadredin is willfully confusing the public on behalf of the state regional air board, made up entirely of pro-growth Valley politicians. The board is asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the worst air pollution designation it has to offer, "extreme non-attainment," so that federal highway funds will not be pulled back until developers have all the roads they need for more growth, which will equal more pollution, not however the responsibility of the state board. Presumably, in 2023, Sadredin's two-bit flak successor will be saying our air is even cleaner, but that we must apply for the federal "catastrophic non-attainment" designation so that federal highway funds will not be withdrawn.

As long as the Valley keeps growing, it doesn't matter how many restrictions are placed on stationary-source emissions (mainly farm equipment). It is the cars of the new residents that do the damage. It is the destruction of natural resources to build subdivisions that does the damage.

Until a public coalition actually commits to suing both the federal and state governments simultaneously and is willing to endure the long haul such a suit would entail, nothing will improve and Sonny Star will be printing authoritative "expert" flak about how much cleaner our air is getting every breeze May.

Moving from bull to a related topic, apple pie, we note that righteous members of the local Applepiocracy are suggesting that the CEO of Riverside Motorsparts Pork is really not the proper sort of person we should include in our community. Therefore, the Applepiocrats suggest, the board of supervisors somehow renege on their approval of the RMP permits and zone changes. Because, you see, he is not a nice man. Sonny Star, with his unerring instinct for snobbery and with its contemptuous ignorance of law, is also slinging apple pies at John Condren.

The present public commentary in Merced is filled with bull and apple pie. If this keeps up too much longer, the whole county will be buried by flaky crusted compost (which might be a smoother driving surface than our present streets and roads). And that's just dandy, as long as no one imagines it will stop the increase in air pollution coming to the Valley through "planning" promoted by the University of California, the Merced Association of Governments, the Merced Board of Supervisors, the Merced City Council, the finance, insurance and real estate special interests, the air board and the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint. And, of course, by Sonny Star, who knows which side he's buttered on.

The only black box on the horizon is $5 fuel.

Badlands editorial staff

Merced Sun-Star
Breathe easier knowing air is cleaner...Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation. Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air. About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction...we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. By any objective measure, the plan adopted by the air district is a comprehensive effort that leaves no stone unturned...

Merced Sun-Star
RMP an embarrassment...Marc Medefind, Merced...Letters to the editor

Five months ago, the Merced County Board of Supervisors made a decision that rocked the world of citizens who think that clean air, noise restrictions, ag preservation, and traffic concerns should be pre-eminent in the hearts and minds of those they elected to serve. Since then, the "house of cards" known as Riverside Motorsports Park has taken quite a tumble...Sun-Star has published exposés about the background and character of CEO John Condren...documents the seemingly nefarious ways in which he treated both employees and directors. Other articles have exposed the way the RMP Corp. deceived those who were once strong supporters and flouted the laws in Alameda County...paint a picture of an arrogant, egomaniac who apparently did anything to get what he wanted, regardless of statute or ethics. Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron...Where's the money coming from to build this gargantuan track? We still have no answers. Kenny Shepherd ("Advocate to Adversary") once again raised huge questions about character and trust where RMP is concerned...far from rolling in the bucks -- RMP can hardly pay its electric bills. After bamboozling most of Merced County's Supervisors into supporting this farce...milked dry and its directors sent packing...filling local racing fans with dreams of grandeur...overturning common sense ordinances... it doesn't seem too unrealistic that the rezoned land will be sold to investors...Mr. Condren will sail off into the sunset... But maybe that was the plan from day one. Still, it's not too late. Our Supervisors have only to revisit and rescind their unfortunate December decision to prevent this embarrassment from staining our county any further.

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A McPomboza?

Submitted: May 16, 2007

"Now the Cold War is over, and our excuse for this behavior is gone. We need a new and better vision. I'm exploring ways to define that vision. I would be satisfied with small but definite steps in a new direction, but what direction? Neither technology nor economics can answer questions of values. Is our path into the future to be defined by the literally mindless process of technological evolution and economic expansion or by a conscious adoption of guiding moral precepts? Progress is meaningless if we don't know where we're going. Unless we try to visualize what is beyond the horizon, we will always occupy the same shore." Rep. George E. Brown, Jr., D-CA, 1993

I met Jerry McNerney once, at an event in Stockton to protest the Pomboza Gut-the-ESA, featuring Pete McCloskey. McCloskey had not yet announced that he would run against Pombo. It was a press conference of serious environmentalists and a number of regional reporters. After their statements, the environmentalists marched to Pombo's office. It was a mild, polite environmental action. It was an awkward event for McNerney, but at least he was there. The awkwardness was in the fact that he was surrounded by the people who would eventually put him in office. For a political candidate who had been campaigning already for four years without the help of most of those luminaries, that is not an easy place to be.

The next year a helluva campaign took place in the 11th Congressional District. McCloskey, who stood against the Vietnam War in the New Hampshire primary in 1970 against his own party's incumbent president, did run against Pombo. His campaign's well-documented research about Pombo's relationship with Jack "The Singing Lobbyist" Abramoff, bloodied Pombo severely in the primary. National environmental groups finished him off in the general and McNerney became the congressman from the 11th.

Fifty-nine Democrats voted recently against a measure to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within nine months, supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, opposed by House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, D-MD. Predictably, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, one of Hoyer's special friends, voted against it. One of Hoyer's Maryland boys, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the new Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has apparently taken McNerney under an Oriole wing. Will the Maryland boys, with a little help from Cardoza, turn McNerney into McPomboza?

Bay Area Democrats report McNerney is a good man. That's good. McNerney also proved himself to be scrappy in two elections, losing the first against Pombo. But was he scrapping for principle or for office?

McNerney is meeting with San Joaquin County growers during this Farm Bill year. Well, that's important. They'll want less pesticide regulation, an end to the Endangered Species Act, more federal money, and imperial marketing plan that allows them to sell their fruits and vegetables anywhere with no fruits and vegetables to come to the US, easy, continued access to cheap undocumented farm labor, and their congressman to take a radical rightwing stance on private property rights -- for starters. But, if you don't know that, you have to listen. Pombo, now a lobbyist and big shot in the newest anti-ESA/private-property-rights fanatics coalition, and Cardoza do listen, most carefully.

McNerney says he wants more highways for San Joaquin County, where significant portions of the superb prime farmland are already paved over with highways. In other words, he wants more growth although he may think all he wants is less traffic congestion. How long will it be before he's calling for a new freeway through a canyon to Silicon Valley, like Pombo did?

Being a science type, we wonder how he stands on the Bio Safety Level-4 biowarfare lab UC-Bechtel-Etc./Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory want to put in just outside of Tracy. Tri-Valley CAREs, the Livermore-based environmental group that has been working for 30 years to make LLNL a responsible institution, reports today that they recently asked McNerney to oppose the project.

His position on this biowarfare lab will be the most important statement of McNerney's convictions his constituents will have. And to resist the forces of darkness on that one will take strong, clear conviction, unlike his excuses for voting against the McGovern bill. It will cost him money and the good opinion of the University of California, some powerful agribusiness organizations, the largest developers in Northern California, and a significant portion of LLNL workers in his district. It will show his constituents what kind of man he is.

This is what he says:

National Security
...We need to change the provision that guarantees homeland security funding for every state. This only leads to wasted spending on pet projects that have little to nothing to do with homeland security...

...Taking care of our environment is part of taking care of ourselves. Nothing is more important to our health than clean air and pure water. These are not problems we face in some distant future or far off place. San Joaquin County, right here in District 11, has some of the worst air pollution in the country. As a result, our people suffer rates of respiratory illnesses – asthma, emphysema, etc. – that are off the charts. Our District also faces serious water problems – ground water contamination and shortages in a number of high growth areas... -- Jerry McNerney for Congress,

What will he do about the Bio Safety Level-4 proposal for Site 300 near Tracy? Does he have the fortitude to stand up against an awesome array of special interests? He's not going to get any support for a stand of conviction from either Cardoza or the Maryland boys.

If he came out against it, alongside the City of Tracy, and LLNL did not as a result make the short list for the facility, he would have done an enormous service to his district, regardless of what kind of hell Republicans bring him in 2008 and of how much money finance, insurance, real estate and military contractors put on the nose of a talking dog running against him.

In the vote on the McGovern bill to end the war, McNerney voted against the people that brought him to the party, which didn't include Cardoza or the boys from Maryland. McNerney voted against McCloskey and the environmentalists, who are not known for pro-war inclinations. He voted against his speaker and all the rest of the Bay Area members of Congress, including both California's senators.

In the recent SF Chronicle feature on him, he appeared to tout his expertise in science and his PhD in mathematics. Wunnerful. The late, great California Congressman, George E. Brown, Jr., D-Riverside, long-time chairman and ranking minority member of the House Science Committee, was also scientifically inclined. In fact, there are people who still regard Brown as one of the most intelligent congressmen we ever had. He was a wise man always asking important questions. Brown or his colleague McCloskey would be better models to pattern oneself after in Congress than the party hacks McNerney seems to be keeping company with now.

Dumping Pombo remains important. But a tough rightwing candidate in that district, like Dean Andal for example, could eat up this "good man" and spit him out on the side of the highway like used chewing tobacco. McNerney's problem is complex. How many votes does he need to sell to the Hoyer Bunch and the military contractors behind them to get the money to outspend Rove Republican boodle. It might come down to people working the streets, shopping centers and the Internet. How many grassroots progressive Democrats did he alienate by voting against the McGovern bill? If McNerney doesn't establish himself as a progressive, a man who will listen to all views, ask honest questions and give honest answers and vote on open, intelligible convictions, the not-so-good men will drag him down into their pit and eat him alive. Pombo left a legacy liberals deny. His convictions were clear and he acted on them. Some of them were illegal but that's another question. He's a strong act to follow. Regardless of whether you agreed with him, you knew where he stood.

Many people who worked for McNerney will be less inclined to do so if he begins to sound like a McPomboza.

Bill Hatch

Los Angeles Times
Senate Defeats Iraq Withdrawal Measure
by Noam Levey

WASHINGTON — The Senate today handily defeated a measure to effectively end most U.S. combat operations in Iraq by next April, but the 29 senators who voted for the amendment represented the highest number yet that have united behind a proposal to force President Bush to bring home American troops.
The plan by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not garner nearly enough votes to pass. Sixty-seven senators — 47 Republicans, and 20 Democrats — opposed the proposal.
Their amendment won the votes of 28 Democrats and one independent. But support for the Feingold-Reid measure — which followed a similar House vote last week — provided another indication of how public pressure to end the war has pushed congressional Democrats to embrace once politically taboo plans to challenge Bush’s management of the war.
“It is clear that change is in the air ,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said after the vote. “Our resolutions have not passed, but they will pass.”
Among the measure’s supporters were all four Democratic Senate leaders, as well as the four Democratic senators running for president: Delaware’s Joseph Biden, New York’s Hillary Rodham Clinton, Connecticut’s Christopher Dodd and Illinois’ Barack Obama.
California’s two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, also backed the plan.

San Francisco Chronicle
Rookie in Congress touts science...Zachary Coile

McNerney -- who stunned the political world by defeating House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo in November -- is cutting a much quieter path through Congress than his cowboy-boot-wearing Republican predecessor from Tracy, who sought to use his clout to rewrite many of the nation's environmental laws...focusing on the little things: He's requesting highway money to ease traffic congestion back home from his seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee... holding regular "Congress at your corner" coffee klatches to get to know his constituents...formed an agriculture advisory panel to hear what fruit and vegetable growers in San Joaquin County want out of the forthcoming farm bill. But he's also keeping a wary eye on the active Republican effort to unseat him. Like other freshmen, he's raising money by the bushel and carefully calculating his votes. On Thursday, he was the only Bay Area member and one of just 59 Democrats to join with most Republicans in voting against a measure to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within nine months. Anti-war activists immediately assailed the vote. The influential liberal blog, Daily Kos, posted a statement venting their frustration: This "was a vote of conscious (sic) today, and McNerney failed that test. I think all those who walked those precincts, threw Jerry fundraisers and made calls on his behalf deserve an explanation for his vote today." The outcry was loud enough that McNerney penned a reply: "I want an end to the war in Iraq. But ending the war must be done in the most responsible way." He said he voted instead for a Democratic war funding bill calling for increased diplomacy, "which experts from across the political spectrum recognize is the only way to end the war responsibly." The vote shows the challenge for McNerney in trying to satisfy Bay Area liberals and online activists -- who were the backbone of his campaign -- while keeping a voting record in line with his slightly Republican-tilting district. (His neighbor and political ally, Merced Democrat Dennis Cardoza, also voted against the withdrawal bill.) A secret political memo by an aide to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove -- exposed by House Democrats -- shows that the White House picked McNerney as their No. 3 target among 20 top House races in 2008. "Karl Rove and the White House have him in their crosshairs -- there's no doubt about it," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.... Republicans may be underestimating how difficult it will be to unseat McNerney next year, Van Hollen said. "The most important thing a member can do is No. 1, establish a strong constituent outreach and relations effort at home -- and he's doing that -- and No. 2, to get to work on issues that are important to people in his district, and he's doing that," Van Hollen said. "He's making his mark on a range of issues." Since his election in November, McNerney has often been compared to the Jimmy Stewart character in the 1939 Frank Capra movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" -- an earnest but naive political neophyte who's suddenly thrust onto the Washington scene. In some ways, the description is apt. Pombo is now running a corporate-funded property rights group, Partnership for America. In an interview last week, he said he won't run again because "it's time to move on." Amy Walter, a nonpartisan analyst for the Cook Political Report, said the district is changing and becoming more suburban, but still tilts toward the GOP because most of the electorate is still in the more conservative San Joaquin County. "McNerney has a lot to prove in this next election -- that he was not simply a fluke,"..."The race in '06 was all about Pombo, but this race is going to be all about him."

Blowing Up The Buddhas [top]
by babaloo

How easily something that seemed solid, important, historic, if you will, can disappear. All it takes is one careless moment, and the painstaking work of many people over a long period of time can be wantonly destroyed — just like that.
I refer, of course, to Rep. Jerry McNerney's vote yesterday against ending the war in Iraq. He has his rationale; I don't buy it for a second. But let's put that aside for now.
What are the real repercussions that I see from McNerney's vote? Well, they're myriad, and they're not pretty, unless you're from the Rahm Emanuel/DLC (or Republican) school of politics.
A lot of us, myself and many of the readers of this blog, got involved in politics relatively recently, inspired by the people-powered movement of Howard Dean. We believed fervently that if we did the hard work to support our ideals, we could effect change in our country. And right up until yesterday, Jerry McNerney was the shining example of what we could accomplish as an organized political body. I think it's fair to say that for a lot of us, that dream ended yesterday afternoon, with Rep. McNerney's vote against bringing our troops home.

National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure
Scientific Community Mourns Passing of Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. (D-CA)
Elder Statesman was Ranking Minority Member of the House Science Committee and a Long-time Advocate for Investment in Research

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On July 15, 1999, the scientific community lost a powerful voice in the Congress with the death of Representative George E. Brown, Jr. (D-CA). Brown, who represented a district in Riverside, California, was a long-time champion of the sciences, former chair of the Science Committee, and a leader in the debate regarding appropriate funding levels for scientific research. He was also an advocate for better education in the sciences and technology, seeing these fields as integral to Americans' ability to succeed in the next millennium.
The Congressman died from an infection developed following heart valve replacement surgery in May. He was 79.
"Mr. Brown was more than a friend of science. In 34 years on the Committee on Science, he became a fount of wisdom about how science and technology was transforming our lives. As an advocate for space exploration and environmental protection, George Brown challenged scientists and policymakers alike to consider the unanticipated consequences that future generations would face. As a champion of basic research and science education, Mr. Brown reminded us that all citizens of all ages expected, and deserved, a return on government investments.
"In an interview earlier this year when asked to reflect on his career in public service, Brown said, 'What I've always wanted to do is help shape ideas about the emerging human culture.' He did that and so much more.
"All policy advisory bodies and students of government have lost a role modeland a colleague. The legacy of Congressman George Brown will light the way to a science and technology policy for the next millennium."
During his years in Congress, Rep. Brown was a force behind the establishment of OSTP, OTA, and EPA, advocated peaceful space exploration and international scientific collaboration, opposed earmarking of federal science funds, and promoted a host of environmental, energy, and technology issues. Although most prominently known in the science community for his work on S&T, Brown was an advocate of civil rights as far back as the 1930s, and opposed the Vietnam War in the 1960s. He was a tireless champion of social equity and challenged the science establishment to consider how technology could diminish, rather than increase, the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Below is an excerpt from a 1993 speech he gave to the AAAS Science and Technology Colloquium:

"For the past fifty years, this nation has focused its resources on building weapons of inconceivable destructive power, and we have viewed the rest of the world as a chessboard designed to play out our own ideological struggle. We propped up governments that murdered nuns, priests, nurses, and children, and we provided high-technology weaponry to dictatorships. We destabilized governments that were democratically elected, in some instances to protect the profits of U.S. companies. We turned a blind eye while our tactical allies acquired the components necessary to build nuclear weapons, and we condoned authoritarian governments in the name of the free flow of oil. Our vision during the Cold War was cynical in the extreme. 'Mutual assured destruction' was a U.S. philosophy of international relations; the 'Peacekeeper' was a ballistic missile that carried nuclear warheads.
"Now the Cold War is over, and our excuse for this behavior is gone. We need a new and better vision. I'm exploring ways to define that vision. I would be satisfied with small but definite steps in a new direction, but what direction? Neither technology nor economics can answer questions of values. Is our path into the future to be defined by the literally mindless process of technological evolution and economic expansion or by a conscious adoption of guiding moral precepts? Progress is meaningless if we don't know where we're going. Unless we try to visualize what is beyond the horizon, we will always occupy the same shore."

Modesto Bee
Foreclosures rise...J.N. Sbranti

San Joaquin County had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last month, and Stanislaus and Merced counties weren't much better. One of every 131 homeowners in San Joaquin County were in default on their mortgages and being foreclosed this April, according to RealtyTrac's U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. One of every 180 homes faced foreclosure in Stanislaus County, and one of every 210 homes in Merced County.

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Real nice

Submitted: May 08, 2007

The cities and counties of the San Joaquin Valley have been promoting rampant growth at the expense of the common air quality and asthma for children and elders for 30 years. Part of the reason they get away with it is because their officials control the regional air pollution control district. Within a week of his virtual sponsorship of a proposed 1,200-acre auto-racing facility, including eight tracks designed to draw visitors from a 100-mile radius of central Merced County, former Chairman of the Merced County Board of Supervisors Mike Nelson was appointed to the regional air board.

Last night, before a city council that will shortly decide on a WalMart distribution center that will draw at least 1,000 diesel truck trips a day, the air district executive director had the gall to describe Merced air as "virtually clean." While even the council members would have had trouble choking that down, his real argument was that he estimated that $2 billion in federal highway funds were at stake if the air district did not accept the worst air quality standard the Environmental Protection Agency until 2023 bestows rather than rush to clean up the air quality by 2013.

When it was suggested that, via the politicians on the board, Valley air quality policy was really controlled by business interests (finance, insurance and real estate [FIRE]), the executive director righteously defended business, saying it stood to lose $20 billion under new air pollution laws.

We just love to hear those rhetorical billions thrown all around City Hall.

A representative for Moms Clean Air Network led the attack against FIRE propaganda, quoting the American Lung Association's 2007 report, ranking Merced the sixth highest city in the nation for ozone. By chance, this is about the ranking Merced has for mortgage foreclosures and sub-prime loans in jeopardy.

This fight is going to take more than testimony before bought-and-sold local politicians, or even apple-pie tossing parents of asthmatic children. The Moms are going to have to learn that if you can't break bread with the politicians and sue them the next morning, asthma rates for their children and for their parents will just keep rising. The Mother's Milk in this game is the same-old, same-old cash, courtesy of finance, insurance and real estate interests.

We can understand the desire nice people have to believe nice visions. We want to believe that our Valley towns and cities still hold out some care for the common good and that we can still bury our differences and speak with One Voice to the real enemies (according to our leaders) in state and federal government, enemies who plot 24/7 to steal from the Valley, impoverish our people, lower our quality of life, deny our children opportunity, etc. Of course, THEY have always been after our water.

The problem is that nice is not always the same thing as true.

Top finger pointer of the City Hall event was Councilman Bill Spriggs, chairman of the unsuccessful Measure G campaign to hike sales taxes to develop funds to match federal highway funds to build more highways and expressways in Merced, to encourage more growth as well as service the growth Merced city and county permitted on the come, hoping for those highway funds despite air quality that is a national scandal. Spriggs blamed our dangerous air quality on the Bay Area's failure to build affordable housing, thus causing massive commuter traffic, for our air pollution problem. Last year the National Association of Homebuilders and Wells Fargo Bank ranked Merced and Modesto the fourth and fifth least affordable housing markets in the nation. There were no Bay Area cities in the top 10 least affordable US housing markets. Salinas ranked third. This pathetic apologist for local development interests with national and international ties is peddling a line of the well known substance. This line is intended to make the local citizen feel better -- maybe even nice -- about our poor, overwhelmed but nice city council that so valiantly looks out for our interests. Neither city council members more county supervisors can be held responsible for permitting all the growth. It is a nice belief. It is nice to believe that we can come together and reason with our elected officials and their staff about issues that threaten our common health and safety.

It's not true, but it's real nice.

But, lest the ordinary citizen become dismayed, that nice new UC Merced campus is planning a nice medical school to do some real nice research on respiratory disease. And that's why so many people want to move to Merced to live. And, if that isn't nice enough, UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to put a real nice biosafety-4 biowarfare lab in the hills behind Tracy to do nice studies on the most deadly disease known to man and beast. Real nice.

Badlands editorial staff

Merced Sun-Star
Some want polluted Valley air cleaned up sooner...Leslie Albrecht

Valley's polluted air drew sharp criticism at Monday night's City Council meeting...Air District Executive Director Seyed Sadredin presented the new cleanup timeline to the council as part of a 58-city tour he's making to promote the plan...told the council that Merced's air is "virtually clean," and that a child born today breathes air that is 50 percent cleaner than 15 years ago. But the region is still plagued by dirty air...conditions that we have no control over," such as the Valley's bowl-like geography. Lisa Kayser Grant, a member of the Moms Clean Air Network, noted that the American Lung Association's 2007 State of the Air Report ranked Merced as the sixth most ozone-polluted city in the nation.

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Ethanol biotech bubble

Submitted: May 01, 2007

The ethanol bubble reveals the pathological side of the political economic system as well as the housing bubble did, and no doubt the same few people involved in ethanol were involved in housing speculation not long ago. The housing bubble pushed our air quality over the edge: the San Joaquin Valley now has as bad or worse air than the Los Angeles basin. Ethanol is shaping up to be nothing but a huge water grab. The ethanol bubble will end about the time a new housing bubble begins.

There is a reason why corn is primarily a Midwest crop. The reason is called rain, as in what Central California doesn't have, being a desert.

As the GMO boys and girls get busy on engineering just the perfect corn for ethanol, gene drift will occur, as it has occurred wherever corn is grown. The ethanol-making genes will drift into corn grown for dairy sillage and get into the milk supply, here in the land free of GMO regulation, perhaps causing gases of another sort. Then UC can study the contribution milk-drinking San Joaquin Valley citizens make to air pollution, along with the bovine flatulence (adding insult to the injury of doubled corn prices and continuing low milk prices to dairymen in the largest dairy state in the nation).

But, that's OK because the honey bees are dying, so the almond growers can convert to ethanol corn and make a real killing before selling for real estate. We know nothing is going to be done about the honey bee collapse because the House subcommittee in charge is chaired by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a man who doesn't like any non-human species that shows signs of weakening. Dairies could follow behind the almonds and everybody could grow ethanol corn with the latest chemical fertilizers and diesel farm equipment.

Federal and state government doesn't solve ag insect problems anymore,it funds them:

Medfly: $150 million since 1980, now proposal for permanent program at $16 million/year; the government cannot control its entry through ports like Long Beach;

Pierce's Disease, Glassy-winged sharpshooter: now spread to 28 counties, control programs in 51 counties, population of GWSS growing, two new infestations last year, 80 research projects, $20 million a year.

No wonder UC Merced wants to start a medical school. It's following a hallowed tradition of colonization of diseases as each generation of government/corporate/university technologists goes to work on the plagues caused by the last generation of the great win-win, public-private funded technologists, and government/corporate/university propagandists keep promising us that famous Black Box. The latest is a UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory biowarfare lab on a site where it also tests depleted uranium bombs near Tracy. So, the UC Board of Regents, under the guidance of Chairman Richard Blum, Sen. Feinstein's husband, dangle the promise of a medical school for the Valley (first conceived for Fresno in the mid-60s) and give you depleted uranium dust and a lab full of the most dangerous pathogens to local agriculture in existence, and hope nothing bad happens because Pentagon biowarfare pork it prime.

Actually, there is a black box. It is called Boomdoggle. It's not a solution for you and me, but it works for people speculating on the next Valley bubble, and who can afford to live outside the worst air pollution area in the nation. But they are the same speculators from finance, insurance and real estate special interests that control the dumbest, most corrupt air quality board in the nation.

Corporate domination of political institutions has meant economy-by-bubble, and each step of the way, working people get poorer, our common environment gets worse, and fewer people get richer. While corn growers yawp about their high prices, the subsidies are going to investors in the ethanol plants. We're a long way from biomass tax breaks now. We've entered the era of high finance in Green Pork.

Way back in 1981, Grass Valley-based folk singer, Utah Phillips, defined the problem in a song called "All Used Up."

I spent my whole life making somebody rich;
I busted my ass for that son-of-a-bitch.
And he left me to die like a dog in a ditch
And told me I'm all used up ...

They use up the oil and they use up the trees,
They use up the air and they use up the sea;
Well, how about you, friend, and how about me?
What's left when we're all used up?" -- Utah Phillips, (c) 1981, On Strike Music.

1 acre foot = 325,851 gallons = 130 gallons ethanol/acre foot (if, as Sacramento Bee editorialists wonder, the USDA figures are right).

Badlands editorial board

Sacramento Bee
Can't drink ethanol...Editorial

Businesses in California are racing to build plants to make ethanol...But it will take the state's most fought-over resource -- water -- to grow the crops used to produce ethanol. Many crops can be used for that purpose, but at the moment ethanol plants are picking corn -- the most water-intensive ethanol crop there is. How much water? How much corn? The answer is startling. According to a study of California agriculture by the respected Water Education Foundation, it takes about 118 gallons of water to grow a pound of corn. And how many pounds of corn does it take to produce a gallon of ethanol? About 21 pounds of corn, according to one publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If these numbers are accurate, the answer is about 2,500 gallons of water. For one gallon of ethanol. There is a goal to produce about a billion gallons of ethanol in California a year. That's about 2.5 trillion gallons of water for 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Take all the water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that now goes to Southern California and Valley farms, use it to grow corn -- and it still wouldn't be enough water. First, a water-intensive crop such as corn in the Central Valley is a bad choice. Second, since there is only so much water for agriculture in California, some other existing crops won't be grown. Third, it behooves the state to grow ethanol crops in the most water-efficient manner possible and set up laws and policies that guide industry in that direction. It is downright scary to see such a rush to ethanol without a better look at the consequences.

Modesto Bee
Flat land
Prices stagnant despite demand for dairy acreage

Farmland in the Northern San Joaquin Valley is pretty flat — at least as property appraisers saw it last year.
Land prices leveled off despite the continuing strength of the almond industry and the demand for dairy acreage and rural homesites, said an annual report from the state chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

"It was a pretty dull year following a huge increase that took place between 2003 and 2005," chapter president Randy Edwards, an appraiser based in Hilmar, said Friday.

The report, released Wednesday in Sacramento, tracked land values around the state for dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, rangeland and other acreage that produces California's bounty.

The per-acre values ranged from $150 for dry rangeland in the state's northeast corner to $600,000 for dairy land in the path of Los Angeles-area growth.

The values varied even for a single crop in a single region, depending on soil quality, water supply and other factors.

An acre of Stanislaus County almond trees, for example, could cost as little as $10,000 if watered from a well or as much as $25,000 if supplied by the Modesto or Turlock irrigation districts.

Dairy, the top farm sector by gross value in the northern valley and statewide, continued to be a major force in land values. These farmers have been adding land for feed crops and for disposing of manure under increasingly strict rules.

The dairy industry has struggled recently, however, with low milk prices, high costs for feed and other factors, as well as the lingering effects of last summer's severe heat wave.

"It appears the market is poised for a downward correction, unless a recovery in milk prices and reduction in feed costs (primarily corn) ensues in the near future," the report said.

Almonds, the region's No. 2 farm product, continue to thrive because of efforts to market the increasing harvests. Nut growers are even moving onto less-than-ideal soil, thanks to advances in tree breeding and irrigation, the report said.

Walnut orchard values continued to be strong. The report noted that this crop has not been as vulnerable as almonds to periods of low commodity prices.

Peach orchards ticked up in value. The report said it was too early to tell whether this was because of an ongoing industry effort to trim the acreage to deal with an oversupply of the fruit.

The report said farmland prices continued to be pushed up by the demand for rural homesites — parcels much larger than city lots but often too small for commercial agriculture. This trend includes grazing land on the west and east sides of the valley, up into Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.

Edwards said the report overall shows that agriculture remains a key part of the valley economy.

"It's not the 800-pound gorilla, but it's stable, with the low spot being the dairy industry and the high spot being the almonds," he said.

The report, "2007 Trends in Agricultural Land and Lease Values," is available for $15 from the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. For more information, call 368-3672 or e-mail

Inside Bay Area
Tracy should ponder benefits from Site 300...Tim Hunt, former editor and associate publisher of the Tri-Valley Herald. He is the principal with Hunt Enterprises, a communications and government affairs consulting firm.
(In other words, one more journalist who has become a flak and a lobbyist -- Badlands)
LETTERS of support abound as the University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory seek to bring the nations premier agriculture and animal research facility to the labs Site 300 facility near Tracy. The missing letter, unfortunately, is from the nearest municipality to Site 300, the city of Tracy. The University of California is seeking what the Department of Homeland Security calls the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. There are 18 sites across the nation being considered with selection of three to five finalists scheduled in site is scheduled to open in 2013 or 2014 and replace the governments current site at Plum Island off the coast of New York...homeland security department plans to build the lab to research human, zoonotic (animal to human) and animal diseases to counteract the potential terrorist threat of a weapons-grade animal diseases that have both human health effects as well as huge potential to disrupt the food supply. To conduct the research, the facility would contain secure biosafety labs at the level 3 and level 4 (most secure) levels. Forty University of California sites have BSL-3 labs, while there are seven BSL-4 labs operational in the United States. The UC effort has received a strong letter of support from Gov. Schwarznegger, as well as support from Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena, Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and former Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews from the Tracy area, as well as a number of agriculture and animal trade groups, such as the Farm Bureau. The San Joaquin Board of Supervisors is on record favoring the facility. The sticking point is Tracy... The lab and Site 300 management have a good safety record and have significantly upgraded security since the terrorist attacks of 9/11... Theres no BSL-4 further west than Montana despite the Bay Areas growing focus on the biosciences. Agriculture and ranching are huge economic engines in California, and there also are the potential dangers that come with being the container gateway to Asia through ports in Long Beach/Los Angeles and Oakland. The only question should be whether the facility can operate safety at Site 300, because once thats determined, the lab has nothing but upside for the region and the state.

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Where's the apple pie?

Submitted: Apr 30, 2007

The Merced Sun-Star and the noble crusaders against WalMart wildly endorsed UC Merced, anchor tenant for the largest speculative housing boom in Merced history. The Merced Sun-Star endorsed Riverside Motorsparts Pork, which Mike Nelson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, described as his legacy. After the project was approved, due to some backroom financial dealings, disgruntled investors persuaded the paper to run some negative history of RMP boss John Condren's financial dealings.

Now, clean air crusaders and the Merced Sun-Star hurl criticism at the Valley air board, composed of supervisors and council members that have passed every development project that has come their way and have no solution for the resulting air pollution but to diddle the law, with a lot of leadership from their members of Congress, safely stuffed in the pockets of the major polluters.

The Great Valley Center, providing maternal nourishment (thanks primarily to the Packard Foundation) of win-win, public-private partnerships for smart growth and all the rest of the hypocritical propaganda coined by finance, insurance and real estate special interests, has now become UC/GVC, a publicity outlet for our anchor tenant campus for growth. Good-bye Dolly, and Hello level-4 biowarfare lab and depleted uranium bomb tests near Tracy.

Activist moms worried about their children's health should not stop at publishing critical articles in the newspaper. They should all bake apple pies and send them to the members of the air board, just to show how serious they are about the problem and how committed they are to fighting it.

That's sure to do the trick.

Badlands editorial board

Merced Sun-Star
Leaving a legacy of bad air...Candice Adam-Medefind

The red flags that grace our schools to prohibit our children from taking recess or playing sports on bad air days... The Valley is one of the most polluted air basins in the entire country. In addition, Merced, as well as Merced County, ranks among the nation's top ten most polluted cities and counties. Valley residents pay a heavy cost, estimated at more than $3 billion every year or approximately $1,000 per person annually, for this pollution, and our children pay disproportionately. This is why Moms Clean Air Network (Moms CAN) was formed. Currently, our Valley is considered a "serious" nonattainment area for ozone pollution. However, the staff of the SJV Air District has created a plan for an "extreme" non- attainment area. By voluntarily downgrading our status to this worst classification, the air district staff can have the current 2013 deadline for cleaning the air extended to 2024. What's really unconscionable here is that the staff made no effort to draft alternate plans for the other possible deadlines of 2017, 2019 or 2021. To make things worse, this plan to delay only addresses 48 percent of the pollutants under the assumption that the other 52 percent will be solved by some miracle device not yet invented, a metaphorical "black box." The SJVAQCD Board is composed of county supervisors from each of the eight Valley counties and three city council members from throughout the Valley...will decide whether or not to pass the staff's plan at their meeting on Monday. Merced County's district representative on the board is Supervisor Mike Nelson. He must exercise leadership on behalf of our children... Bureaucratic, staff-driven plans will simply not suffice. Cleaning up our air should and will involve sacrifice on the part of both industries and individuals, but the only sacrifice assured by the proposed plan is our children's health.

New clean air deadline stinks...Our View

Each year, more and more hot air is expended by the windbags at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to tell us how the air is going to be cleaned up -- and then nothing much happens but more coughing, choking and wheezing. Their inability to chart a course to clean the air has helped lead to alarmingly high rates of childhood asthma and countless other breathing-related maladies that deteriorate our health and pillage our pocketbooks with medical bills. Monday, the district's board will vote on an ultimate delay: a proposal to extend the federal deadline to clean up our dirty air from 2013 to 2024. We, frankly, think that idea stinks. The Valley shouldn't have to wait 11 more years for clean air. If the board approves the extension on Monday and it does indeed take until 2024 to clean up our air, an entire generation of Valley children will have grown up inhaling some of the nastiest air in the country. The district's professional staff should be ashamed to put forth such an embarrassing delay. We also can't figure out why the district staff is so antsy to get the delay pushed through. Merced County Supervisor Mike Nelson represents Merced County on the board...told CVAQC members that he has not made up his mind. We urge him to vote "no" on the extension, which we think would be a hasty and misguided decision made under a false sense of urgency.

Wal-Mart foes seek documents...Leslie Albrecht

Wal-Mart Alliance for Reform Now, a Florida-based anti-Wal-Mart group, filed a public records request with the city Wednesday asking for all Wal-Mart-related documents -- including e-mails between city staff and Wal-Mart officials -- from 20 city departments. WARN organizer Nick Robinson said the request is designed to bring more public scrutiny to the planned distribution center... Opponents say trucks servicing the center will damage Merced's already poor air quality; supporters say it will eventually create 900 jobs. The City Council will vote on the distribution center later this year. Such requests are standard practice for WARN, which has stopped new Wal-Mart supercenter stores from being built in 24 Florida counties, said Robinson...Wal-Mart isn't going to give us records." The fight against the Merced distribution center is the first campaign WARN has waged outside of Florida...
Quick facts: Wal-Mart Distribution Center
WHAT: The 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week sorting merchandise for Wal-Mart stores. There are currently nine Wal-Mart distribution centers in California.
WHERE: The site is a 275-acre parcel between Childs and Gerard avenues west of Tower Road in southeast Merced. The site is about three-quarters of a mile from the new Mission Avenue interchange.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY: Proponents say the center will bring an economic boost, eventually creating 900 jobs that pay $13 to $14 hourly. Opponents say the estimated 450 trucks that will drive in and out of the center every day will worsen Merced's already poor air quality.
WHAT'S NEXT: Consultants are writing the environmental impact report about the distribution center. The report will likely be released in the fall. After public hearings, the City Council must vote to approve the distribution center if it is to move forward.

Modesto Bee
Builders offer to sweeten the deal...J.N. Sbranti

Now home builders are doing something new to attract reluctant buyers: drastically cutting prices...slashed prices. "Some builders are being very aggressive about (reducing) prices and giving incentives," Smiley said. "They're going to sell their houses for what they can get, regardless of what they paid for the land." Meritage Homes this weekend is offering $100,000 "to spend any way you want" including reducing the purchase price at its subdivisions in Ceres, Lathrop, Modesto, Oakdale and Ripon. D.R. Horton is promoting "rock bottom pricing" at its Diablo Grande homes, with reductions and incentives worth up to $80,000. Lakemont Homes' Moraga project in Merced has cut prices $30,000 to $60,000 per home. Its advertisements claim prices for some of its houses are "below builder cost." New America Homes' Mansionettes in Livingston is offering "a $75,000 price reduction on select models" for those who bring in its Modesto Bee ad. "It's very expensive to hold standing inventory," explained Shane Hart, senior vice president for The Grupe Co..."Modesto is one of the most challenging markets in the state right now. Builders are selling less than two homes a month, which is not good,"...Grupe has been offering incentives and lowering prices as much as $55,000 to keep its sales going. "The last three months, we've averaged about one sale per week. We're really happy with that." Hart doesn't expect a quick recover for Stanislaus County's new home market, primary because of tightening requirement for subprime loans.

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