The Invisible Middle Finger

Submitted: Dec 24, 2006
Invisible hand
Term used by Adam Smith to describe the natural force that guides free market capitalism through competition for scarce resources. According to Adam Smith, in a free market each participant will try to maximize self-interest, and the interaction of market participants, leading to exchange of goods and services, enables each participant to be better of than when simply producing for himself/herself. He further said that in a free market, no regulation of any type would be needed to ensure that the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services took place, since this "invisible hand" would guide market participants to trade in the most mutually beneficial manner.

Smith published his theory the year the United States was formed and declared its independence from Great Britain. Manufacturing was in its infancy. Nevertheless, for the last 30 years, American economists have re-embraced Smith’s invisible hand with the fervor of rightwing religious fanatics embracing the Rapture, Armageddon and all that.

But, in 2000, the financial services sector of the US economy became for the first time in history a larger percentage of the gross domestic product than manufacturing. This year, US agricultural imports may exceed its agricultural exports. The balance has steadily shrunk for the last decade.

Contemplating this impressive statistic, the Badlands Journal editorial board responded with a genuine new economic theory, which we call the Invisible Middle Finger.

Now, the strength of a theory lies in its simplicity and its capacity to explain diverse economic phenomena. We believe the Invisible Middle Finger – what could be simpler? – explains it all.

A year and a half ago, the Merced real estate market was described as one of the most inflated markets in the nation. Farmers couldn’t get farmworkers because everybody was a carpenter. Developments were sprouting as fast as new orchards once did. The Invisible Middle Finger had guided Merced County ever since the UC Merced project was approved, with a series of economic overrides of the environmental review documents, and set loose a speculative real estate feeding frenzy with the result that the county now leading the nation in home mortgage foreclosures.

Nevertheless, enormous profits were made on inflated land values and by the speculative “home flippers” who didn’t get left standing in the game of musical chairs. The huge inflation in land values also enabled local landowners to borrow a great deal more money.

Throughout it all, the local paper, the Merced Sun-Star, bought by the McClatchy chain soon after UC Merced was a done deal, has been a fervent if unconscious choirmaster of the Invisible Middle Finger. Why, just the other day, in a story about how an allegedly corrupt former district attorney was exonerated for serving alcohol to a minor, who was later the victim of vehicular homicide, could not bring itself to relate that it was two UC Merced students who ran the boy down. In our faith-based real estate speculation, we cannot bear to speak a negative word about the little darling credit cows at UC Merced. Surely, the Invisible Middle Finger is the only explanation.

Basically, the Sun-Star got the story right on the Dec. 12 supervisors meeting: Supervisor John Pedrozo voted against the Riverside Motorsparts Pork final environmental impact report on a losing 2-3 vote and then voted with the majority, providing the necessary vote to pass the airport noise/safety zone restriction, without which the RMP project could not have gone forward, despite approval of its environmental review. It wrote a headline: "Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo votes YES on Riverside Motorsports Park."

Somebody, and we think ol’ Slippery John might have been part of it, screamed bloody murder, so the paper changed the headline. What they should have done was keep the headline, bring the airport-vote graph up near the top, and explain what it meant. While we doubt that was beyond the compositional capacity of the reporters, the Invisible Middle Finger had thwonked the editorial mind. So the paper caved, and confused the public.

This may be an excellent lesson for the paper and a warning to keep editors outside the vicinity of an actual story. Actual reporting only seems to confuse them. They belong in offices with doors that close and out of the hair of reporters trying to do the difficult work of covering public meetings.

However, under the aegis of the Invisible Middle Finger, we encountered the faith-based newspaper management belief that the only journalism than sells is malicious gossip. Newspaper subscriptions are falling but the faith goes on.

This “personal” story focused on Supervisor John Pedrozo, who had made no secret that he would vote for the noise/safety zone reduction, for the benefit of other projects, although he would vote against the racetrack. We knew that Pedrozo had been thumped in the head by the Invisible Middle Finger. The only real surprise that could have come out of that meeting would have been if Supervisor Kathleen Crookham had sided with Pedrozo and Supervisor Diedre Kelsey against certifying the environmental review of RMP. But even Crookham wasn’t dumb enough to ignore the Invisible Middle Finger. Board Chairman Mike Nelson was never in doubt, and spoke of wishing “to leave a legacy” ( a monument to the Invisible Middle Finger). Nor was Supervisor Gerry O’Banion, a politician perhaps the chosen messenger in Merced County for the Invisible Middle Finger.

The supervisors meeting was an evening event, which went on until “the wee hours” as the paper put it. The paper has a deadline, so the editor and at least one reporter left after the early votes to file the story.

In short, the paper screwed up the story and confused its readers needlessly.

We should have known what would happen the moment the editor appeared, because this was the guy who lectured to the public about the meaning of irony in defense of a racist column about Border Patrol busts in Planada last spring. There doesn’t seem to be anybody too poor, vulnerable or innocent, especially if they have names like Oseguera or Gomez, who can’t be the victim of this paper’s madly spinning moral compass needle.

But the Invisible Middle Finger is pointing directly at Planada real estate and so that needle just spins and spins.

The paper’s sports editor got into the story last weekend by asking who the RMP investors were.

"No, I'm not discussing our investors and their identity doesn't matter in any case," (RMP CEO John) Condren sniffed when asked about it on Friday.
Fine, that kind of arrogance will play with reporters and various members of the public who dare touch on subjects he doesn't like, but...
What about the county?
Incredibly, nobody on the board seems to care where Condren has stumbled across a quarter-billion dollars for the largest private investment in Merced County history.
And despite Condren's scoffing at the question, it does matter.

It was a fair, necessary, competent reporter question. We do know the names of investors in the sports franchises of our region: Lurie, Magowan, Shorenstein, Finley, Haas, the Maloufs, the DeBartalos, Davis, Kelley. Local NASCAR team sponsors include the Piccininis (SaveMart) and the Fosters (Foster Farms). They are wealthy people with good credit ratings.

It hasn’t been since one of the early information sessions on RMP that investor names like West Hills Investors and Race Partners have shown up on RMP flak. These names are about as revealing as Acme LLC or ABC Inc. or XYZ Import-Export and, in any event, have disappeared from the Internet. Perhaps RMP CEO John Condren’s letter to investors accurately predicting how Tuesday’s votes would go two years ago spooked the investors after the letter was leaked and published.

The problem with Condren’s arrogant letter was that it didn’t have any class, and you usually expect $250 million to come with a little class, particularly in the sporting world. But, once you grasp the theory of the Invisible Middle Finger, any relationship between class and $250 million magically disappears.

The personal attack on the sports editor in the letters-to-editor space was immediate and severe. The first writer advised the paper’s management: “Put editor on a leash.”

It is always interesting to read the Merced Sun-Star and see the half-truths that Sun-Star Editor Joe Kieta's reporters have to say. Another attack on Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren was in Saturday's issue of the Sun-Star. It once again proved that the reporters don't know anything about what they write.… If Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron had done some investigation he would have had a number of answers to his questions. He would have known that a group of private investors don't have to have their names in the paper. The firm that is funding the track is very reliable and trustworthy. Now wouldn't that have been good for the paper to report that fact?

Actually, Cameron wouldn’t have gotten any answers from investigation, at least not on the Internet, which provides exactly zilch information on RMP investors, other than several references to Kenny Shepherd putting together a group.

People could still legitimately ask where Condren and Shepherd are going to find $250 million. Nobody really even knows who paid for the ridiculous EIR done for the project or who will be writing the checks to indemnify the County for legal expenses arising from lawsuits against it for having passed this indefensible environmental review. While the duo seem to be competent pitchmen and competent racecar drivers (and Sheperd is possibly a competent manager of Altamont), they just don’t look like $250 million. And nobody who has been following this project ever supposed that they were $250 million.

The sports editor’s professional question drew a second letter attacking the sports editor was published:

For someone who has "spent the better part of a decade covering the business of sports and entertainment," he doesn't know much about these things. Thankfully the county and our supervisors do. The books and finances of any privately held entity are indeed that -- private. Ask any entertainer or track owner, or for that matter, any farmer or rancher. The Sun-Star's obsession with the finances of private citizens is more than disturbing.
Maybe the Sun-Star is the greatest paper in the Central Valley.
And maybe it's a fish wrapper.
If Steve Cameron was hired to cover the impact of RMP and professional racing, he may be guessing for years where his press pass went.

These two writers, who regularly defend local real estate speculators, are out to take this sports editor down for asking the right question at the right time and for describing Condren’s rudeness.

For lack of any accurate information about whom the investors in RMP are, people begin to speculate. Speculation moves around two poles: either Condren has $250 million, or he doesn’t.

If he doesn’t, this can lead to all kinds of wild questions, take your pick. For example, what sort of relationship does Condren have with Foreign Trade Zone #226 Merced and how necessary is the appearance of such a project for the future of that enterprise, whose official grantee, according to the federal government, is the Merced County Board of Supervisors? Is it merely coincidental that “control” of the former Castle Air Force Base passed from the federal government to Merced County a week after the RMP project was approved and the airport noise/safety zone was shrunk to fit RMP and other projects in its vicinity?

Students of the Invisible Middle Finger recall the famous Pegasus project, fomented upon Castle by an alleged granddaughter of President Eisenhower. They also recall, a few years later, a great, dishonored prophet of the Finger, Sun-Star reporter Gary L. Jones’ famous lead concerning another disappeared Castle project: “Ring, ring, ring goes the bell. Bounce, bounce, bounce goes the check …”

If Condren does have $250 million, how much of it is local money and who are the local investors? People against this environmental disaster might be interested in boycotting their businesses if they knew who they were, because this project is going to be the very definition of environmental impacts and cumulative environmental impacts. People know it and they are angry at what they perceive as the betrayal by their elected officials and local business leaders.

Of course, Badlands Journal’s gifted editorial board knows it is just the working of the Invisible Middle Finger.

We don’t know who the investors are or why the supervisors approved this project. We do know that the Invisible Middle Finger is hovering over Merced making the well-known gesture. In light of the letter writers’ vitriol, we suspect the Invisible Middle Finger is at least in part homegrown. But, who knows? There is a whole lot of funny money in the American economy today and it doesn’t have any kind of conscience about public health and safety.

Finally, we return to the Sun-Star editor’s weekend apologetics and attack on ol’ Slippery John Pedrozo.

I called Pedrozo last week and asked him to explain the rationale behind his split decision. He said that he voted "yes" for the airport rule change because it possibly could affect other proposed developments in the area.
But Pedrozo is flat-out wrong about that. The vote was only about RMP and did not bind further developments.

In fact, the vote “bound” the airport to shrink its noise/safety barrier. It didn’t bind any developments. It unbound them from sensible noise and safety standards around an airport.

Once again, we have the friendly, apologetic editor setting the record straight, while continuing down the dimwitted “personal” story angle. And getting the story wrong. This is a political, financial and, at the moment, above all a legal story. About the only thing we can deduce from Kieta’s column is that the Sun-Star will be going after John Pedrozo like it went after Gordon Spenser. The two letter writers are trying to intimidate the sports editor out of going after Condren in the same way.

This story isn’t about Pedrozo, Condren, or any of the supervisors. The Invisible Middle Finger bent down and popped them all on their noggins and they are seeing themselves as stars. Actually, the supervisors did an excellent political job of diffusing the public with four town hall meetings, which altogether, included probably 15 hours of public testimony that didn’t count a bit, because they weren’t legal public hearings. Three of the meetings were held by Kelsey, an opponent of the project because it will seriously impact here district. The last was held before the Dec. 12 vote by the project’s strongest supporter, Chairman Nelson. Pedrozo made no secret of how he was going to vote. His motive for those votes was clear to any enlightened observer: the Invisible Middle Finger was hovering right over his head and pointing straight down upon him that night.

Meanwhile, the Invisible Middle Finger is drawing "fully controlled access" expressways all over the county.

However, despite the defeat of reason in favor of speculation to establish a temple to the stock car in one of the two worst air pollution zones in America as a failed war for oil rages on in the Mideast killing, among many, many others, soldiers from Merced and the San Joaquin Valley, and the local housing boom busts as spectacularly as the inflation in home prices a year ago, and unfinished subdivisions surround the city, there was a positive result. The public has begun to realize that their local government is corrupt and has begun to say it out loud.

Badlands Journal editorial board


Invisible hand definition

American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips, pp. 266-267

USDA Economic Research Service

Merced Sun-Star
Risky loans squeeze owners
...Leslie Albrecht
Merced homeowners who took out high-risk loans this year are more likely to fall into foreclosure than borrowers in any other city nationwide, a new study predicts. Merced's projected foreclosure rate ranked No. 1 on a list of 376 cities compiled by the Center for Responsible Lending, a North Carolina-based nonprofit organization predicts that 25 percent of Merced's subprime loans will end in foreclosure. Subprime loans are made to borrowers with poor credit histories...include adjustable interest rates... When the interest rate increases, payments can jump up by 30 percent in some cases. Borrowers are faced with "payment shock," said Kathleen Keest, one of the study's authors. "You've got this perfect storm of these adjustable rates starting to adjust at a time when housing prices are coming down and interest rates are going up." Skyrocketing home values encouraged borrowers to take out risky loans because they assumed they could refinance with a better loan after their equity increased. "Here we are two years later and that (home value) appreciation is not happening." "What goes up does sometimes come down." Victor Jimenez of First Merced Mortgage Co. said he's noticed an increase in foreclosure activity. Two years ago when Merced was rated No. 2 in the state in home value increases, buyers flocked to the area... "People just used their houses as an ATM machine," Jimenez said. "It was a disaster waiting to happen and now it's happening."

Merced Sun-Star
D.A. may have served alcohol to underage drinker who died
… Chris Collins
Sun-Star investigation: Gordon Spencer relied on others to check IDs at country club
Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer has admitted that he "probably" served alcohol to an underage drinker at a party last month who was later killed by a car as he walked home.
Spencer also said he didn't check IDs at the party while he served drinks as a bartender, but instead expected others to keep underage drinkers away from the alcohol.
Greg Gomez, a 20-year-old from South Merced, was served alcohol at a Dec. 18 buffet dinner at the Merced Golf and Country Club, the Sun-Star has learned.
He was invited to the party by his girlfriend, who works at the club. The dinner and free drinks at the bar were arranged by managers at the club who hosted the party to thank employees.
Spencer said he wasn't sure whether he served Gomez alcohol, but added: "I'm not going to say I didn't." …

Merced Sun-Star
UC, city are one
...Josh Franco, UC Merced Student Body President...Letters to the editor
Much has been said about the relationship between students and the community this semester. People who continue to erect boundaries between students and the community further propagate an "us versus them" mentality; however, I write to say that we are truly one and the same. We each contribute to the vitality of this planet, whether it's planting crops, mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, serving food, trading stocks, attending city council meetings, writing our representatives, e-mailing our professors, researching alternative energies, discovering cures for aliments or contemplating the future...while some semblance of division will always exist because few people will always feel unappreciated or unwelcome, such should not deter us from making our community what it must be: an inspiring beacon of perpetual hope. Students value Merced, and this region, for the opportunities it offers and responsibility of serving the public it bestows upon us and we share this responsibility with the community. Therefore, I conclude with a heartfelt "Thank you" to the people of the city of Merced for giving students the opportunity to learn about, live in and love the Valley! – April, 2006
You can come to our Valley but can you play our blue violin?

Modesto Bee
Buying house still out of reach for most
Report ranks Stanislaus nearly last in affordability
… By J.N. Sbranti
Despite falling home prices, the Northern San Joaquin Valley continues to have among the least affordable housing markets in the nation, according to new statistics.
Median-income families could afford to buy fewer than 5 percent of the homes sold in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties during July, August and September.
Nationwide, median-income families could afford 40.4 percent of the homes sold, according to the National Association of Home Builders-Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index.
In Stanislaus County, 4.1 percent of homes were affordable, because the median price was $372,000 and the median income was $54,400.
In Merced County, 4.3 percent were affordable; the median price was $359,000 and the median income was $46,400.
In San Joaquin County, 4.8 percent were affordable; the median price was $434,000 and the median income was $57,100.
Northern San Joaquin Valley homes weren't always so costly. In 1999, more than half of the homes sold in the three counties were affordable to those with median incomes.
The index showed that Los Angeles County was the least affordable place to buy. Median-income families there could afford 1.8 percent of the homes, because the median home cost was $523,000, while the median income was $56,200.
To see the index, including data going back to 1991, go to:

Merced Sun-Star
County controls Castle property
…Abby Souza
Few property owners will take a $10 check in exchange for more than 1,900 acres, but that is exactly what Merced County paid the Air Force for land at Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center.
At Tuesday's Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting, Board Chairman Mike Nelson handed a $10 check to Air Force Real Property Agency's Philip Mook.
In exchange, the county and several other groups now own 1,991 acres on the former Air Force base.
The "purchase" was actually a transfer of deeds for the land, said John Fowler, county director of commerce, aviation and economic development. The $10 was representative of a title transfer fee of one of those deeds …In the meantime, the board also approved a management agreement with Federal Merced Associates. That company will act as landlords for the property for the next five years, as well as market and sell property within the base with board approval.
This company will pay the county $1 million annually in collected rent and other income …

Put editor on a leash...Don Bergman...Letters to the editor
It is always interesting to read the Merced Sun-Star and see the half-truths that Sun-Star Editor Joe Kieta's reporters have to say. Another attack on Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren was in Saturday's issue of the Sun-Star. It once again proved that the reporters don't know anything about what they write. I have had experience with half-truths written by the reporters at the Sun-Star...seem that Kieta wants to create as much controversy as possible in the articles, maybe he thinks this will sell more papers instead of making the paper look like it doesn't know what they are doing. If Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron had done some investigation he would have had a number of answers to his questions...that a group of private investors don't have to have their names in the paper. The firm that is funding the track is very reliable and trustworthy. The Sun-Star and The Modesto Bee came out in support of the project, so why now are they attempting to discredit the project? Maybe Hank Vander Veen should get his editor on a leash and wait until the project is developed and then hold Riverside to what Condren has said. EDITOR'S NOTE: Cameron is an internationally recognized expert on sports facilities -- including racetracks.

Merced Sun-Star
Attack wasn't necessary
...David Wood, Merced...Letters to the editor
To paraphrase, it's amazing after four years, Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron is still guessing... What's with the personal attacks on John Condren? Have some degree of professionalism! For someone who has "spent the better part of a decade covering the business of sports and entertainment," he doesn't know much about these things. Thankfully the county and our supervisors do. The books and finances of any privately held entity are indeed that -- private. Maybe the Sun-Star is the greatest paper in the Central Valley. And maybe it's a fish wrapper.

Merced Sun-Star
RMP gets a green light
Riverside Motorsports Park moved from plan to reality early Wednesday morning when the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved the raceway complex in a series of votes that spanned eight and half hours. With Supervisors Deidre Kelsey and John Pedrozo dissenting on two key votes, plans for the 1,200-acre racing venue earned just enough support to move forward. The board's 2:30 a.m. decision followed hours of emotional public testimony from raceway supporters and opponents...300 people filled the board chambers and nearby overflow rooms at the meeting's 6 p.m. start...the final vote was cast just before 2:30 a.m. the crowd had thinned to a weary three dozen. Kelsey voiced the strongest opposition to the raceway -- at one point reading a 35-minute statement condemning the project as a disaster for taxpayers and an attack on farmers and ranchers near the raceway's future northern Merced County site. Kelsey slammed environmental reviews of the project as inadequate and rushed, urging the board to delay its vote until more studies on the project's impacts could be completed. She said approving of the project would damage the public trust and disgrace the supervisors. "As this project sits in front of me today, it's terrible," said Kelsey. "...The credibility of our board is on the line with this." Pedrozo cast the only other votes against the project. "I know what it is to be a farmer and I know what it is to have cars coming down your country roads," said Pedrozo. "I can't support the (environmental impact report), not until I am totally confident that all the people that live out there are taken care of." The board voted on six motions that collectively allowed the project to move forward. By the end of the meeting, the board had voted to approve the project's environmental reviews, to allow traffic and noise from the raceway to exceed current county standards, and to overrule a finding by the Airport Land Use Commission that the racetrack's site is too close to Castle Airport's runway.

Merced Sun-Star

Steve Cameron: Riverside has too many unanswered questions
It feels like the hollering and arguing have been raging forever. Two years?
Three? Four?
The Board of Supervisors perhaps put an end to the debate this week, approving all the key provisions which give the green light to Riverside Motorsports Park -- a $240 million development that would change the face of Merced County.
Note the key word -- perhaps…In any event, Condren insists the board never inquired about his investors. And in this case, his routinely smug tone was justified.
"A list of investors was neither asked for, nor does the county have such a list," said Mark Hendrickson, the county's director of governmental affairs.
Don't you want to scream: Why not?
It's astonishing what the county board doesn't know and didn't ask about the Riverside Motorsports Park -- despite a request to change the general plan regarding land use for that property and obvious opposition from a significant segment of the population.
Even Condren's allies don't really know much about the business plan which supposedly provides an underpinning for the motorsports park.
The local business community, which has supported Riverside while dreaming of the millions which could be pumped into our economy (Condren's figures, naturally..), has little clue how the project really might work.
To borrow an old line, you could fill the Grand Canyon with what we don't know about the Riverside project.
Or about Condren, for that matter.
Maybe Riverside Motorsports Park could be the greatest thing to hit the Central Valley since cows.
And maybe it's a dead fish.
Amazing that after four years, we're still guessing...

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

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

Merced Sun-Star
Pedrozo could have voted down RMP -- but didn't
...Joe Kieta
Dec. 14 edition. It was right there in big, colored type on the front page: "Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo votes YES on Riverside Motorsports Park." I distinctly remembered when Pedrozo said he was against the park's environmental impact report -- which I took to mean he was opposed to the Riverside project moving forward as-is...struck at how strongly he voiced his opposition. How could we have printed that Pedrozo voted "yes" when he clearly voted "no"?...a razor-sharp copy editor caught the error and it only appeared in half of all copies. But was it really a mistake? I'm convinced that it wasn't an error at all. When you whittle it down and trim out all of the baloney, Pedrozo voted "yes" when it counted most. The first involved whether to certify the environmental impact passed 3-2... The second (and most critical) vote concerned changing rules that require a certain distance between a development and Castle Airport's runway. The changes, which essentially sidestep the airport land use commission's rules, require a 4-1 vote of the supervisors to pass. If the vote failed, the RMP project would have been essentially dead. Pedrozo voted "yes." In essence, the fate of the project was in Pedrozo's lap -- and he put it over the top. Pedrozo said that he voted "yes" for the airport rule change because it possibly could affect other proposed developments in the area. But Pedrozo is flat-out wrong about that. The vote was only about RMP and did not bind further developments. If Pedrozo really, truly was against Riverside Motorsports Park, he would have voted "no" on the airport land use vote. But he didn't. Whatever you think about RMP (and this newspaper has cautiously endorsed it, mind you), Pedrozo's "no" and "yes" votes are just plain contradictory. I hate mistakes in the paper. But I love pointing out hypocrisy and political gamesmanship -- two terms that seem to fit Pedrozo like a pair of trusty Levis.

Keep media untethered...Mike Salm, Merced...Letters to the editor
This is not the first time I've seen a letter to the editor that says, in effect, "put the editor on a leash." It also happened earlier this year when there was a lot of investigative reporting regarding the behavior of a few government officials in Merced. You never want to get too close to some government officials. They don't like it. So should we, the people, then be like a possum and smile, roll over and play dead? In this country we have a government of the people, for the people. We have a right to know how our government functions.

Plainsburg resident's attempt to recall supervisor fails...Corinne Reilly
County auditor Stephen Jones said Friday that Owens didn't serve Pedrozo with notice of the recall in accordance with state guidelines. "You swore under penalty of perjury that you had made proof of personal service on John Pedrozo," Jones wrote in a letter to Owens, dated Dec. 18. "However, you did not make personal service as you attested, as Mr. Pedrozo was out of town." The letter said that the county's attorney has determined the recall petition is invalid. Owens said he tried on Friday to personally serve Pedrozo, but couldn't track him down. Now Owens said he intends to serve Pedrozo via certified mail.

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Re: General Plan Text Amendment on Expressways

Submitted: Dec 20, 2006

131 South Auburn Street
(530) 272-8411
(530) 272-9411

December 19, 2006

Mr. Gene K. Fong
Federal Highway Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
980 Ninth St, Suite 400
Sacramento, CA 95814

Margaret Lawrence
P.O. Box 2048
Stockton, CA 95201
fax 209-948-7782

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, California 95340
Fax: (209) 726-7977
Ph: (209) 385-7366 ; ; ; ;

Via facsimile and Email

Re: Proposal -- To amend the Merced County General Plan Circulation
Chapter (Chapter II) by establishing an expressway standard and
designate an expressway alignment, known as “Campus Parkway”,
east of the City of Merced from Coffee Street to Yosemite Avenue.
Campus Parkway will be approximately a 4.5-mile route; and 2006
Cycle IV General Plan Amendment: General Plan Text Amendment
No. GPTA06-001- Campus Parkway.

Dear Supervisors, Mr. Fong and Ms. Lawrence:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney,
represents the Central Valley Safe Environment Network, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water with respect to the above-referenced proposal for General Plan Text Amendment.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide the following comments, which are submitted this morning as a result of the fact that, despite considerable effort, our clients were unable to obtain the Merced County Board of Supervisors, staff report for the proposed amendment until approximately 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

The Proposed Text Amendment does not comply with the California
Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) (Public Resources Code § 2100 et seq.) Accordingly, we request that the Board of Supervisors deny the Proposed General Plan Text Amendment, and reject adoption of the Campus Parkway CEQA Findings of Fact, Statement of Overriding Considerations, and Mitigation Monitoring Program.

The Amendment includes two separate projects. The first project is an
amendment to General Plan that will apply County-wide. The second
discretionary approval would designate an expressway alignment.
These two projects require separate environmental review. There has been no environmental review that we are aware of for the County-wide expressway standard, nor any review of the expressway alignments other than the Campus Parkway. The two projects may not legally be lumped together without appropriate review of all of the discretionary acts.

It appears that the entire proposal, including the expressway standard and alignments, will be based upon the EIR for a 4.5-mile route. It appears that two other expressways are planned to join with the Campus Parkway: the Atwater- Merced Expressway and the Bellevue Expressway. These additional expressways are not mentioned in the Campus Parkway Environmental Impact
Report (“EIR”). There are also plans for expressways on the west side of Merced County, which have not been the subject of any CEQA review that we are aware of.

Because of the fact that there has been no environmental review of the
consequences of this amendment to the General Plan, the proposal must be rejected. Sufficient environmental review must take into account the consequence of its cumulative impacts to traffic, air and water quality, public health and safety, and particularly impacts to biological resources and wildlife corridors. Also, the amendment will necessarily result in the loss of a considerable amount of agricultural land, a consequence completely at odds with the General Plan goal of preserving it. This significant conflict with the existing general plan must also be considered during the CEQA process.

Other potentially significant impacts exist, none of which have been the subject of any CEQA review. For example, the potential impacts to private property, including potential for condemnation in the future, that will arise as a result of expressway alignment designations has not been considered or reviewed. Also, the essence of the expressway designation under the state Streets and Highways Code is fully controlled access. By severing county roads used by farmers and ranchers for trucking and agricultural equipment, this
amendment cannot fail to disrupt normal agricultural practices with consequent economic damage.

Also, County staff reports that the Campus Parkway will take 83 acres of agricultural land out of farming but this is “below the threshold of significance established by the Federal Highway Administration,” and the County has no “significance” standard for agricultural lands.

The County sees no problem because the “land use designation
underlying the Campus Parkway will remain Agriculture.” Under this
reasoning, the County, Merced County Associations of Government, the state Department of Transportation and the FHWA could pave over thousands of acres of farmland in Merced County through this General Plan amendment and still account for them as “Agriculture.” This violates planning and zoning laws.

If the expressways already mapped by MCAG and CalTrans are built, the County will be carrying thousands of acres on its zoning maps as “Agriculture,” which will in fact be paved over expressways with “fully controlled access.”

Furthermore, by piecemealing one section of expressway after another, a process that would be enabled by this General Plan amendment, the County would stay beneath the federal threshold for significance, insuring that no state or federal funds could be used for agricultural conservation easements. This results in the untenable situation summed up by County staff as follows: “Thus,
the only potential funding source for agricultural conservation easements is Merced County. No budget exists in the Department of Public Works for the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements.”

One option for the Atwater-Merced Expressway passes close to the
Riverside Motorsports Park (“RMP”). But, said one supervisor at the last meeting on the RMP project, the Atwater-Merced Expressway cannot be discussed in connection with traffic jams around RMP because that expressway “is not a project” (although its alternative routes are mapped and posted on the MCAG website – see attachments).

The proposed General Plan amendment attempts to circumvent the
environmental review for the entire projected expressway system in Merced County by relying upon the EIR for 4.5 miles of expressway. Further, the proposal appears to intentionally deprive agriculture of state and federal funds for conservation easements on lost agricultural land. This bold attempt to create fictional Agriculturally zoned areas should be rejected, as it violates environmental, land use, and agricultural preservation laws.

An additional funding issue has also received no review or discussion. It appears that County plans to divert funds remaining in the transportation budget to the construction of the Campus Parkway. Further analysis and public disclosure is necessary in this regard.

Because of the issues raised above, we believe that the proposal fails to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

For these reasons, we believe the proposal should be withdrawn and appropriate environmental review completed prior to further consideration.

If you have questions regarding the above, please feel free to contact me at 530/272.8411.


Marsha A. Burch

cc: Central Valley Safe Environment Network
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Donald B. Mooney, Esq.
Steve Rough, County of Merced Public Works,
Demitrios O. Tatum, County Executive Officer;
Robert Lewis, Development Service Director ,
Kursten Sheridan, Caltrans ,
Kim Turner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Turner/SAC/R1/FWS/DOI@FWS

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Grassrooters' factual flyer on the racetrack

Submitted: Dec 11, 2006

The attitude of Riverside Motorsports Park and Merced County government toward your environment, health and public safety is: Gentlemen, start your engines, put your pedal to the metal and pass every law and regulation protecting public health and safety on the right as fast as you can.

RMP Chief John Condren claims he’s got your elected officials in his pocket.

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

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

A quorum of supervisors should be disqualified from voting on this project at all, when a developer is bragging that loudly about how he owns them. To begin with, Jerry O’Banion and Kathleen Crookham. O’Banion is widely known as having steered the project from the west side to its present location. Crookham gave a promotional talk on the RMP project before the Clipper Club at Central Presbyterian Church. Their involvement with the project ought to disqualify them from voting on it.

In a January 1, 2005 letter to RMP investors, Condren claimed:
· The traffic plan for the project was complete; NOT TRUE
· Zoning restrictions pertaining to noise impacts have been amended such that unlimited Motorsports activities
may occur without additional restrictions; NOT TRUE
· The RMP Master plan is approved; NOT TRUE
· RMP event schedule will include all the largest names in motorsports. NOT TRUE

Two years later, there is no traffic plan; the EIR simply states that the noise level from auto racing is a “significant, unavoidable impact” to be overridden by a vote of the supervisors; the RMP master plan is only a draft that will be rewritten after – not before – the supervisors approve the project; while RMP tells its investors it will draw all the big names in auto racing (and hundreds of thousands of spectators), it tells the locals the eight tracks in the project will be almost exclusively for local car clubs, drawing only a few thousand spectators.

The Big Consultants Shuffle. The County recommended a firm it has done a great deal of work with, including the lion’s share of planning for UC Merced. It couldn’t come up with a traffic plan, so RMP replaced them with another firm willing to say there is a traffic plan when there isn’t one.

RMP wrote its investors two years ago the traffic studies are all done by Jan. 2005. At the Nov. 15 public hearing on the project, county Public Works informed the public there was no traffic plan. The RMP traffic consultant agreed: there is no traffic plan beyond waiting to see what roads spectators choose.

On Nov. 28, for the first time, county Public Works informed the people of Delhi, that Shanks Road, El Capitan and Palm were going to be a major thoroughfare for race traffic until two weeks ago, that some county roads would need to be widened, which might call for eminent domain if residents and RMP cannot agree on prices.

Who are RMP’s investors? These people are presumably underwriting a project that will significantly worsen our already severe air pollution, fill our country roads with frequent, periodic traffic jams, and fill our ears with the din of racecar engines. The Merced public has a right to view a full financial disclosure statement on who these people are who are investing in the destruction of our environment – before the supervisors we elected vote to approve this project. The public needs to ask how much RMP investor money will end up in campaign coffers of officials we elect.

Indemnification. The County and RMP have an agreement:

Indemnification and Hold Harmless
Approval of this Project is for the benefit of Applicant. The submittal of applications by Applicant for this Project was a voluntary act on the part of the Applicant not required by the County. Therefore, as a condition of approval of this Project, the Applicant agrees to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the County of Merced and its agents, officers, employees, advisory agencies, appeal board or legislative body of Merced County (collectively, “County”) from any and all claims, actions and proceedings against the County to attack, set aside, void, or annul an approval by the County concerning the Project occurring as a result of the action or inaction of the County, and for any and all costs, attorneys fees, and damages arising
therefrom (collectively, “Claim”).”


This agreement allows the County to approve this project without taking any responsibility for these new, impacts to our environment added on top of UC Merced and its induced housing boom – air, traffic and noise – because they aren’t liable for legal costs.
However, the County has not yet signed the agreement. nor did they include it in the conditions in the staff report on the project.

Water. A year ago, Board Chairman Mike Nelson misspoke, saying Atwater would supply RMP with potable water. Winton doesn’t have enough water. Water Castle is supplying off-base residents is contaminated. So, where’s the drinking water?

Overweening control of Planning Director.

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

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

This means that planning director, in concert with RMP, can change the plans for the project any way they want to, unless the public challenges it. In other words, the planning director works from RMP, not for you.

Conflict of interest. The Merced County Board of Supervisors is the land-use authority for all unincorporated land in the county. But, it is also the land-use authority for the former Castle Air Force Base. The RMP project, which adjoins Castle, cannot be approved until the board overrides the noise-zone for the Castle airport established by the airport commission. The board plans to do this on Dec. 12. But, these are two separate actions, both with large consequences to the noise level, and the airport override must be analyzed in the RMP environment impact report. The County did not do that. In fact, there is no analysis on the environmental, public health and safety impacts from this decision. The County is in conflict of interest on these two projects.

Contempt for the public. The County did not make the new staff report to the public (including state and federal agencies) available until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the day before the hearing. Nothing could better express the County’s complete contempt for the public and favoritism for special development interests. It also perfectly expresses the County’s lack of respect for law and elemental fairness. In violation of public access provisions within the California Environmental Quality Act, the public has not been allowed to view the working file of this project without recourse to the state Public Records Act. This is illegal.

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

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

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

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


Dear Supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson, Kelsey and O’Banion: November 27, 2006

Thank you, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, for scheduling three town-hall meetings this week to address the immediate impacts that the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park will have on your district. We would ask that supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson and O’Banion also schedule meetings in their districts and listen to their constituents’ concerns about the RMP project.

Town-hall meetings are not formal hearings and we question how much impact they will have. However, the Board of Supervisors has closed the public hearing. At this stage, town-hall meetings appear to be the best way we have to afford citizens the opportunity to participate in the process.

At the close of the public hearing on RMP, there was still no traffic plan. The traffic study that had been done was based on a flawed, deceptive traffic count in the wrong season for either agricultural harvests or auto racing. This is unacceptable to the public.

The RMP project proposes that District 4’s rural two-lane roads be used as highways for thousands of cars to reach the raceway site. The RMP project will negatively impact the roads, environment and public health and safety of other districts as well. Districts 1, 2, and 3 (Livingston, Atwater & Merced) will be impacted by traffic congestion, slowed response by emergency vehicles, noise, and air quality threats of the project.

All residents will be impacted by road deterioration. Our nationally recognized air pollution could ultimately cause the federal government to stop highway funds until we make greater efforts to clean up our air. We will then be asked to raise our taxes to fix the roads because development does not pay its way.

All Merced County residents will be impacted when the Board of Supervisors lowers the standards of our out-dated General Plan to accommodate the RMP project. The Board should not even consider projects with the massive impacts of RMP before it updates the county General Plan.

We request that the Board of Supervisors do the following:

· hold meetings in all the districts and be accountable to those that elected you to represent our County, not developers’ interests;
· re-open the public hearing on RMP, since about 50 people were not able to testify at the last hearing;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review RMP’s and the Planning Department’s responses to public testimony;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review the traffic study, which was not finished at the time of the public hearing.
· not decide on RMP or other large development projects before the County has finished updating its General Plan.

Thank you.
Tom Grave
Merced County- Citizens Against the Raceway


Write and call your supervisor and tell them to reopen the public hearing and/or deny this project.

Attend Board of Supervisor meetings on Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. and on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.

Write and call Congressman Cardoza, whose wife is a doctor.

Write and call state Sen. Jeff Denham and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani.

Paid for by Citizens Against RMP

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Conglomerate bagman flying quietly under the radar

Submitted: Dec 10, 2006

Castle Farms, Toronto-based Brookfield’s stake in Merced County, has a big interest in a vote the Merced County Board of Supervisors will be taking on Dec. 12. If the noise zone of Castle airport is diminished from two miles to one mile, Castle Farms may be able to develop the back part of its property, which it has claimed would be left in open space.

The board is voting on this Castle Aviation and Economic Development issue because, since the Castle joint powers agreement between the County and the cities of Merced and Atwater fell apart, the County has had sole land-use authority over the former airbase. They also have land-use authority over the RMP land, which in unincorporated. So, wearing one hat, supervisors will vote to diminish the noise zone of the Castle airport, and wearing another, they will vote – according to best informed guesses – to approve the racetrack.

Then, the supervisors will sit back and watch the lawsuits fly, knowing they are indemnified by RMP from having to pay legal fees and costs arising from their decision, irresponsible to the environment and public health and safety.

However, from the public point of view, considering the mutually reinforcing negative environmental impacts of the three projects -- the airport, the RMP, and the Castle Farms should be considered one and the same from the viewpoint of the California Environmental Quality Act. Both RMP and Castle Farms plans rely to a significant extent on the decision to reduce the airport’s noise zone. All three of the projects look to one land-use authority, the County. If the CEQA legal term, cumulative impacts, is to retain any meaning in law or policy, the decision to override “for economic reasons” the airport’s 2-mile noise zone will have cumulative impacts from the western part of the City of Merced into an area stretching to the Merced River Corridor, Atwater, Winton, Cressey, Ballico, and Delhi because it will pave the way from the RMP project and permit expansion of the Castle Farms project.

A representative of the Canadian financial conglomerate, Brascan, of which Brookfield is a subsidiary and Castle Farms is a project, will be watching the supervisors’ vote on the airport with deep interest.

The Roseville-based conglomerate’s representative is described in the Sacramento business press as a “veteran land-development consultant,” linked with Angelo Tsakopoulos and Eli Broad in projects in Natomas (a major flood plain) and about 6,000 acres west of Roseville. He came to Merced about two years ago and began to show up in all kinds of interesting groups.

In the past year, an entity called Brookfield Castle Del Mar directed $43,000 to the measures A and G campaigns to raise sales taxes to pay for new roads, a direct benefit to Castle Farms and RMP. How much Brookfield money has been directed into the campaign war chests of supervisors is an interesting question.

Toronto-based Brookfield Homes is a subsidiary of the Canadian conglomerate, Brascan. According to the Brookfield website:

Brascan is engaged in the business of asset management with a focus on real estate and power generation. The company’s assets include about 70 office properties in seven major North American cities and London and 120 power generating facilities, primarily located in the northeast. In addition, the company provides a host of management and advisory services, primarily in the real estate sector to corporate and individual clients. Brascan is recognized as a developer of master planned residential communities in both Canada and the United States. The primary operations are real estate, power generation and asset management.

Brascan operates in many areas of the real estate business. The company owns and manages a portfolio of office properties, develops master planned residential communities and offers its clients an array of bridge and mezzanine lending, alternative asset funds and financial and advisory services. The company’s master planned residential community business is conducted under established trade names Brascan, Brookfield Homes and Carma, with operations in six North American markets: California, Virginia, Denver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto and two markets in South America: Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Brascan also builds homes for sale and develops commercial lands and income properties for investment and sale.

The company has created a platform of alternative asset funds within the real estate sector. The funds managed by the company and its co-investors include: Brascan Real Estate Finance Fund, Brascan Real Estate Opportunity Fund, and the TriContinental Capital Fund. The company also manages the Royal LePage Franchise Services Fund, a royalty fund targeting primarily retail investors … Brascan's asset management activities are focused on alternative investments, including private equity and direct investments in real estate; and energy and resource assets. The asset management business of Brascan has clients which include pension funds, life insurance companies, financial institutions, corporations and high net-worth individuals. In addition, Brascan also develops and manages structured investment products and companies designed to appeal to specific investors including income trusts, split-share companies and asset securitizations. Brascan also manages a number of hedge funds. The company also has investments in privately-held investment management and mutual fund companies that manage equity and fixed income investments.


So, on Tuesday, follow the money to discover why the supervisors don’t take the obvious step that would stop the racetrack: voting down the airport noise-zone reduction.

Brookfield is one of the biggest, richest development corporations operating in California. This Canadian assets/real estate/energy conglomerate last year bought Olympia & York, which, until its spectacular collapse in the London commercial real estate market, was the largest development company in the world.

The rumor is that distressed developers with unfinished subdivisions are flocking to the deep pockets represented by the veteran Roseville development consultant.

The benefit to Castle Farms from reducing the airport noise zone may prove once again the ancient political truism: No matter how screwed up and destructive a situation is – politically, economically and environmentally -- it always benefits somebody, usually the guy with the deepest pockets.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

-- Sacramento Business Journal, March 21, 2003

In order to approve the reduction of the airport noise zone and approve the RMP environmental impact report, the supervisors will have to employ something called an “economic override.” In the case of the EIR, they will have to find that economic benefits override 34 “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts. But, whose economics are overriding whose? No economic benefits from the project for Merced County are liable to offset the economic disruption to agriculture in the whole region from Highway 99 to the Merced River Corridor and Delhi to west Merced.

Badlands editorial staff


Merced Sun-Star
Supervisors override ban on building near airports
...Corinne Reilly
The Merced County Board of Supervisors issued a preliminary decision Tuesday to override a 2003 finding that plans for the Riverside Motorsports Park conflict with land use rules at Castle Airport. The Airport Land Use Commission ruled three years ago that plans to build the 1,200-acre motorsports venue adjacent to the airport conflict with the county's 1999 Airport Land Use Plan. Specifically, raceway plans conflict with a safety zone rule that bans development within 10,000 feet of an airport runway. Questions over the legitimacy of the commission's finding were raised when the county's Department of Commerce, Aviation and Economic Development began updating Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center's master plan four months ago to reflect new state guidelines on land use near airports. Under the new state guidelines -- on which local airport land use plans are often heavily based -- development is only banned within 6,000 feet of runways...the conflict between raceway plans and airport rules would be eliminated, said John Fowler, the county's director of commerce, aviation and economic development. "The problem is that the local plan is inconsistent with the state of California's plan," Fowler told the board during Tuesday's meeting. Tuesday's unanimous vote doesn't mean an end to the debate...board's decision kicks off a 45-day comment period during which local, state and federal aviation agencies can give their input on whether the raceway's proximity to Castle poses a risk...board is scheduled to make its final decision to approve or deny plans for the raceway on Dec. 12.

The Wall Street Journal Online
Brookfield Consortium Buys O&Y Portfolio
By Mark Heinzl and Ryan Chittum
TORONTO -- A consortium led by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Brookfield Properties Corp. agreed to acquire O&Y Properties Corp. and a related real-estate investment trust for about 1.1 billion Canadian dollars (US$880 million).
O&Y Properties' flagship property is Toronto's First Canadian Place, a 72-story office complex in the heart of the city's financial district and home to Bank of Montreal's headquarters. Including liabilities, the value of the transaction is about C$2 billion, Brookfield said.
Brookfield, controlled by Toronto conglomerate Brascan Corp., owns 46 commercial properties, including New York's World Financial Center. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board makes investments on behalf of the country's national pension program…

Sacramento Business Journal
Placer university land gift could net developer hundreds of millions

by Mike McCarthy

Borrowing a page from local history could put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of land developer Angelo Tsakopoulos and his investment partners.

Many local real estate players believe that Tsakopoulos is donating land west of Roseville for a Catholic university to help him eventually win development approval for land he controls around the college parcels.

If they are correct and Tsakopoulos gains urban zoning for the agricultural land, he and his partners stand to garner huge profits. Some estimate the value of the land that could be rezoned for home construction could reach $800 million — a 1,094 percent increase from average current values.

Real estate observers are neither shocked nor surprised that Tsakopoulos might donate the land to gain leverage. On the contrary, it is seen as a very smart move, and not at all unusual in the land game.

"That's how the public gets a lot of things, and it's nothing new," said Cameron Doyel, a veteran Sacramento land-development consultant. "There's nothing wrong with the profit motive, if it's a clean deal.”

Locally, the practice of giving land in hopes of improving one's nearby investment dates to the mid-1800s when John Sutter Jr. laid out Sacramento's land plan, including parks to be donated to the city in return for development of surrounding parcels, Doyel said.

Environmentalists resent the Placer County move because it could lead to the development of so much open space, on and even beyond the university land.

"There are environmental considerations," said Al Green, a spokesman for the Sierra Club's Placer Group. "We have to speak for wildlife. It can't speak for itself."

Whether Tsakopoulos' group eventually tries to get the land near the proposed school developed, the aging developer really wants to make a lasting cultural contribution to the Sacramento area in the form of the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, Angelo's son and the spearhead for the project.

"I've been very fortunate in life," added the younger Tsakopoulos. "I'd like to do something really meaningful, so I could look back and say I left this place a little better."

Angelo Tsakopoulos last week announced that he and his associates would donate 600 acres for a university site to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the system that owns Saint Mary's College in Moraga and other colleges around the world. Another 500 nearby acres would be donated to be developed and sold for up to $100 million, and all of the proceeds would go to pay for building the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos.

All of the land is located west of Roseville on land now zoned for agriculture. The younger Tsakopoulos stressed that the donation is not accompanied by any request that additional lands be entitled for development.

If, someday, the landowners decide to seek those entitlements, they will still have to pass muster with local officials, he pointed out. "Something like that would be a long way down the road," added Tsakopoulos, who expects his own company, KT Development Corp., will spend four years or more working to get the donated land approved and ready for construction.

But who's counting? Pundits say Angelo Tsakopoulos, who has tried unsuccessfully in the past to get zoning changed on much of the land, stands to reap a sweet harvest if he can do it this time around, when local developable land is scarce and demand is breaking all records.

He controls more than 6,000 acres of agricultural land in south Placer County, including some 5,400 acres just west of the West Roseville Specific Plan area that the city plans to annex, said Dave Jarrette, a partner and land expert in the Roseville appraisal firm of Giannelli, Jarrette & Waters.

Land like that is now selling for $10,000 to $15,000 an acre, and Tsakopoulos bought much of it for considerably less, said several veterans of the Sacramento land market.

The higher prices are for land closer to Roseville, where the likelihood of urbanization is greater. Figuring an average value of $12,500 an acre, the total current value is around $67 million.

If Placer County rezoned the land for residential development, the value would instantly skyrocket to about $60,000 per acre, estimated experts in the land business.

Tsakopoulos would not likely be able to get zoning for home construction on all of the acreage, however. From one-third to 40 percent of the land would likely be for schools, parks and other nondevelopment uses. More would be used to preserve wildlife habitat.

But if Tsakopoulos were able to win rezoning for only 2,000 acres, not counting the 1,100 acres of university land — a reasonable possibility — the value would be some $120 million. That's a 79 percent increase.

If he won the next level of approvals, the creation of tentative maps for parcels, the value would shoot to $150,000 per acre for a total of $300 million, estimated veterans of the land game.

If he took the project further, developing the infrastructure and "finishing" parcels so they are ready to build houses on, he could get at least $400,000 per acre — $800 million in today's dollars.

All of these calculations are based on the observers' estimates of current land value — $67 million. Most of the pundits figure Tsakopoulos and his partners bought or optioned the land for about $2,500 an acre — a normal value for agricultural land, reflecting an investment of less than $14 million.

Should the land be declared permanent open space, the value would probably drop back to that basic, agricultural amount.

At least one professional estimated Tsakopoulos would need to pump another $12 million into getting the land entitled. He surely has already invested millions in the land, including his purchase price of the land and any mortgage payments he may have. But it seems likely that the increase in value would more than compensate for his expense, they said.

A land developer's view: Tsakopoulos' huge landholding west of Roseville runs from the 3,100-acre West Roseville Specific Plan, which Roseville is about to annex, westward to the Sutter County line, Jarrette said.

The stretch runs about four miles east to west and approximately the same distance north to south at its widest point.

The tract is clearly in the path of growth.

On the east, Roseville is annexing toward the Tsakopoulos holdings. To the south, Placer County is processing development approval for the 5,200-acre Placer Vineyards area, in which Tsakopoulos is a major landowner. Just south and west of Placer Vineyards, Sacramento County is processing large tracts for development near Elverta and east of Interstate 5 near Sacramento International Airport. To the west, Sutter County is pushing to develop a huge industrial park.

The combination of these with the Tsakopoulos land would create a new urban corridor between Roseville and the airport.

On top of that, Placer County is planning to build Placer Parkway, an expressway that would connect Highway 65 to Highway 99/70 near the airport. The route would likely pass through Tsakopoulos' land, just north of the future university site.

From a land developer's perspective, the scenario means the land in west Placer is a natural for urban zoning. "It will all fill in someday," said one prominent land expert who asked not to be named.

But there are obstacles. For one, Placer County in 1994 declared the whole area out of bounds to development. Also, the Placer Parkway proposal includes no offramps — a move intended to inhibit growth along the expressway, said Terry Davis, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.

And a Placer County committee working to create a huge habitat preserve in the west county sees the Tsakopoulos land, rich in habitat, as a prime candidate to be part of the preserve, he added.

Strategic maneuvering: Tsakopoulos' donation is seen by many as a business strategy that accomplishes several ends for him, beyond the philanthropic contribution.

First and foremost, observers generally expect that the gift of higher education will prompt the county to ease its development restrictions on Tsakopoulos' surrounding land. The gift of the additional 500 acres to fund the university simply makes the idea of zoning the land for development even more compelling for authorities.

Also helping Tsakopoulos, the university land would need public works infrastructure if the county wants to see the university developed. That means lines for electricity, water and wastewater, as well as roads, would have to be built there. This infrastructure in turn would make it easier to develop his adjacent land.

Moreover, the university land is close to the likely route for the Placer Parkway, putting enormous pressure on the county to create one or more connections from the parkway to serve the university, Davis noted. An interchange on the parkway also would make it easier to develop adjacent land.

If the donation ultimately leads to development approval for the balance of Tsakopoulos' land, the likelihood that his land would be used for a habitat area is reduced, Davis said.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

Merced Sun-Star
Smoother roads ahead?
...Leslie Albrecht
Measure G...For the third time in four years, voters will be asked to support a sales tax increase for road improvements...needs approval from 66.7 percent of voters to pass, debuted in November 2002 as Measure M. It failed, earning 61 percent of the vote. In June 2006 it was reborn as Measure A and garnered 63 percent of the vote, falling 795 votes shy of winning. Just five months later, it's back as Measure G. But with each failure, the voices of those opposed to the measure have grown louder. While there is no organized campaign against Measure G, grumblings from the Letters to the Editor section of the Sun-Star show the battle to finally pass the measure is far from over. If it passes, Measure G will hike the sales tax in the city of Merced to 8.25 percent -- within spitting distance of San Francisco's 8.5 percent -- for the next 30 years...would generate $446 million to help fund transportation projects countywide, from reconstructing Livingston's Main Street to building a new Bradley Overhead. Half the money would go to road maintenance. Kelsey said a Caltrans representative told the county earlier this week that if the governor's infrastructure bond measure passes and Merced achieves self-help status with Measure G, the county will be eligible for funding to widen Highway 99 from the Stanislaus County line to Livingston. The measure's most prominent critic is Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat running for Assembly against Republican Gerry Machado...said the statewide transportation bond measure on the November ballot will provide funding for Merced County roads...noted that the transportation bond will set aside $614 million for eight Central Valley counties in addition to the $1 billion earmarked for widening Highway 99. William Stockard, a retired superintendent of Merced County schools, said Measure G only benefits developers and other businesses like the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park and the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center that "want to get free money."...said the county should cover the cost of road maintenance by charging developers higher impact fees when they build here. Charles Magneson, a farmer near Ballico-Cressey, said he's opposed to Measure G because some of the projects it would fund will create sprawl and eat up farmland..."(Measure G is) heavily funded by developers that are looking for those roads to encroach on farmland to make their developments possible." In June, fliers denouncing Measure A as "welfare subsidies for the Building Industry Association" appeared in the Sun-Star three days before the election. Measure G campaign has tweaked its strategy...raised about $200,000...with the large contributions from donors like developer Brookfield Castle LLC, Del Mar; construction company Teichert & Son, Sacramento; Foster Farms, Livingston; E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto; K. Hovanian Forecast Homes, Sacramento; Wellington Corporation, Morgan Hill; Team 31, inc., Morgan Hill; Atwater East Investors, Danville; and Ferraire Investment Company; Balico...endorsements from Rep. Dennis Cardoza, all three Merced chambers of commerce, five county newspapers including the Sun-Star, the entire County Board of Supervisors and the entire Merced City Council. If it doesn't win, Measure G could come back, but by law supporters would have to wait until the November 2008 election.

Re: Public hearing to consider the issuance of a proposed decision and findings regarding the Airport Land Use Commission's Finding as to consistency between the Airport Land Use Plan and the Riverside Motorsports Park Project- PH #2-10:00am

For more background on the airport noise-zone issue, see this letter of comment from San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water (POW) to the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

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Racetrack promotion meets reality on narrow country roads

Submitted: Dec 08, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

With that, we’re adjourned for lunch.

To which, some members of the public reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands editorial staff

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Mascot issue: identity crisis

Submitted: Nov 20, 2006

When I look at the debate growing about the mascot for UC Merced (setting aside all the laws broken to get the living mascot bobcat incarcerated at the city zoo), I see an identity crisis. But, as local sentiment against the choice of the fairy shrimp over the bobcat grows, I see that the identity crisis is a little more complex than it first appears.

At the moment, students at UC Santa Cruz, whose mascot is the banana slug, are in a feisty mood and resisting their administration’s attempts to grow and convert what was designed as a collection of colleges into a genuine UC public research university. In this struggle, since UC is planning growth to accomplish its aims, the students are allied with people in the city of Santa Cruz. The UC administration is encountering stiff opposition to its growth plans in Santa Cruz.

It seems likely that the UC Merced students’ interest in the fairy shrimp as a mascot reflects a similar rebellious spirit in the emerging undergraduate group, trying to define themselves as conscious human beings on an environmentally degraded planet, living and studying in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada and of John Muir.

Meanwhile, there is an element in “town” that is critical of the students’ attempts to define the campus they live and study on. While this, too, is all part of the “town/gown” identity problem Merced has now saddled itself with in perpetuity, the town’s approach seems so horribly hypocritical. But, that’s totally understandable because the political leadership that got the campus located adjacent to the largest, biologically richest vernal pools in the nation did their famous political deed by complete denial of the existence and of the importance of that landscape except as a bureaucratic problem with certain state and federal resource agencies, amenable to pressure. The UC administration’s eagerness to go along with local developers and landowners on this point was a disgraceful moment in academic history, given the tremendous expertise UC biologists have in the biology of vernal pools. There was also the little problem of the Endangered Species Act, since the pools are habitat for 15 endangered species. But that was handled at both the state and federal levels by former Assemblyman and present Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Merced, formerly known as Shrimp Slayer, presently known as Pombo’s Ghost.

But, still your beating hearts, oh mighty free marketers of Merced, ye who spend such inordinate time and energy on lobbying for government aid. UCSC, that great nest of subversive political forces, produced both Victor Hansen and Rep. John “Build-the-Auburn-Dam” Doolittle, Rightwinger-Roseville. Hansen is a distinguished conservative commentator whose book, Mexifornia, brought howls of approval from people who think like its author. Doolittle, a loyal friend of Jack Abramoff, has never been able to decide which he loved more: developer contributions or a dam on the American River in Auburn.

So, don’t worry, UC Merced Boosters, let UC do its magic on a few classes and you’ll get your allotted quotient of corrupt hypocrites in office and academics to lend respectability to their views.

Bill Hatch

Nov. 16, 2006
Merced Sun-Star
Fairy Shrimp or Bobcats...students want to decide...Victor A. Patton
A group of students has expressed an interest in ditching the bobcat mascot in favor of another creature indigenous to Merced County: the fairy shrimp. Josh Franco, UC Merced's associated student president, said although the issue of changing the school mascot is primarily confined to a handful of students, the movement has definitely gained momentum....said the mascot-change supporters are miffed that the school's current mascot was not chosen by students. Justin Duckham, editor of "Fury Shrimp Times," a student-driven independent publication, said he definitely is in favor of using the shrimp as the school's mascot..."I don't think (a bobcat) reflects the originality that the school is pushing for," "I think it really sounds too much like a high school mascot... Lorena Anderson said changing the mascot would most likely involve petitions from students and a referendum -- neither of which have occurred thus far. Franco said. "For me, the fury shrimp represents that movement to include the students in the decision-making processes of the university. "And I think that's why it's important to keep it alive."

Nov. 20, 2006
Merced Sun-Star
Letter to editor
Editor: Just think; after these students vote on the mascot Merced will be stuck with the "fairy shrimp" way after those who thought to vote for this mascot will be long gone. But Merced with a beautiful college and campus will be stuck with the "fairy shrimp" representing Merced's university.
We can be up there with the banana slug.

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Public letter in opposition to the Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Nov 14, 2006

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

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

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

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

1. Development Plan and Administrative Permit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Airport Land Use Commission decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Immediate issues of public information access

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

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

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

5. Failure to consult federal resource agencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Moratorium until General Plan Update

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

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

8. Conclusion

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

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

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


Lydia Miller Steve Burke

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

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

Cc: Interested parties

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Cardombo the Gofer

Submitted: Nov 08, 2006

Upon receiving the terrible news of the defeat of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, not-yet-indicted-Tracy, developers were alarmed at the possible loss of the Pomboza, that giant wannabe Endangered Species Act Slayer that stalked the north San Joaquin Valley casting its dark and menacing shadow over every square foot of remaining open space and wildlife habitat.

Rumor has it the Pomboza lives on, if only in mutation.

At a recent fundraiser, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Gofer-Merced, reportedly roasted a staffer in front of a large crowd for about a half an hour. Robin Adam, the victim, had either left Cardoza of his own accord or with an assist, to join the staff of Assemblywoman-elect Cathleen Galgiani, Blonde-Stockton. People who attended the fundraiser found the roasting distasteful in view of the fact that Adam had served Cardoza loyally since their days as lady-mudwrestling impresarios at the Cardoza family bowling alley.

This morning we may have found out why Cardoza had made room in his staff. The hush-hush inside skinny that his next chief of staff could be Pombo.

According to the unverified rumor, the developer directorate that arranged Cardoza would run essentially unopposed in this election will rename the Pomboza as they renamed Measure A of the Primary Election Measure G of the General Election.

Enter Cardombo the Gofer.

Nov. 8, 2006

Merced Sun-Star
Thanks to voters, Cardoza cruises back into Washington...Corinne Reilly
California's 18th Congressional District wasn't whether Dennis Cardoza would win, but rather by how much. By a landslide. "It's a great night for America, it's a great night for California and it's a great night for Merced," Cardoza said Tuesday night, speaking before a crowd of about 100 people at a victory party at the Branding Iron restaurant in Merced. "We have a great margin of victory and I couldn't be more pleased."... said he looks forward to serving another term in a now Democratic House, a shift that he said will mean a more fiscally responsible and productive Congress. As a popular incumbent in a Democratic leaning district who outspent his opponent by more than six times... He names his ongoing efforts to overhaul the national Farm Bill as a top local priority for his next term. 18th Congressional District includes San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera and Fresno counties.

Modesto Bee
Democrat McNerney unlikely winner over GOP Rep. Pombo...Erica Werner, AP
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jerry McNerney was an unlikely candidate to take down a powerful GOP committee chairman. McNerney did not even have the support of Democratic Party leaders in the primary, and he lost badly two years ago to the man he soundly defeated Tuesday: House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy. He beat Pombo 53 percent to 47 percent. The unconventional resume didn't matter as national environmental groups made the race a referendum on Pombo, angry over the incumbent's support for energy and gas drilling, privatizing public lands and rewriting the Endangered Species Act to add protections for landowners. The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and other groups spent more than $1 million to defeat Pombo and declared victory when they succeeded. After Tuesday's victory was secured, McNerney got a congratulatory call from former President Bill Clinton. His son, Michael, also spoke briefly with Clinton.

Sacramento Bee
Pombo loses his bid for eight term...Herbert A. Sample, Bee San Francisco Bureau
With nearly all of the vote counted, Democrat Jerry McNerney held a 53 percent to 47 percent lead in California's 11th Congressional District, which includes much of San Joaquin County and portions of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Though political observers rated the contest a toss-up before Election Day, a McNerney victory came as a surprise because Republican voters constitute a plurality in the 11th Congressional District. Pombo...has contended that whatever difficulties his re-election drive encountered had little to do with Iraq or Abramoff, and more to do with concerted efforts of environmental groups and other critics who targeted his race.

Challenge to habitat rejected...Denny Walsh
U.S. agency correctly designated vernal pools, judge says. The home-building industry had challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's designation... U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb in Sacramento ruled that the agency's work passed muster on every point except when it did not designate as critical habitat two tracts involving ongoing public projects.

Stockton Record
McNerney topples Pombo in close House race...Hank Shaw and Zachary K. Johnson
Rep. Richard Pombo met his electoral end at The Waterloo on Tuesday night to a little-known wind energy consultant from Pleasanton. Jerry McNerney declared victory at 12:15 a.m. today, leading 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent with 90 percent of the precincts reporting, including 100 percent from San Joaquin County. For the first time in 14 years, Pombo had met an opponent able to match him ad for ad, volunteer for volunteer, issue for issue. Pombo was supposed to roll over McNerney a second time. The 11th District leans Republican; Pombo is a seven-term incumbent with a huge money advantage and an opponent considered too liberal even by the national Democratic Party. McNerney never quit. He mortgaged his house, dropped everything and set his career on hold for two years to campaign for Pombo's seat.He hired a staff skilled in running grass-roots, ground-level campaigns and tapped progressives from Manteca to Maine for more than $1 million in small checks - enough to offset Pombo's advantage with Washington, D.C.-based political action committees. And McNerney was not without friends. A slew of environmental groups, led by Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, kept up a constant attack on Pombo's environmental record for more than a year.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In the final edition of Wednesday's printed version of The Record, we made an error. We had Jerry McNerney's first name incorrect. It happened as we rushed to get the final results into the paper at about 1 a.m. While we did not catch the mistake until after the newspaper had been printed, we have corrected the story on our Web site. We apologize for the error. Mike Klocke, editor
Reader Reaction
NavyVet...November 08, 2006 11:42 AM
The election results are disappointing to me, but not necessarily surprising. Now we'll just have to wait and see if the democrats can actually put a plan in place to fix some of these problems, or if all of the political hype and rhetoric was just that. Was I the only one who found it odd that the democratic party wouldn't take any steps to make "improvements" before the election? That shows that the country and it's best iterests play second fiddle to politics and power grabs.
eyewhitie...November 08, 2006 11:34 AM
Well, richie rich pobomb, your family is going to have to find another job, unless you're allowed to funnel leftover campaign funds to them. When the Dems take the Senate, the Grand Jury will want to be talking to you soon. Your family can always go back to stealing more land in Tracy.
mike_coleman...November 08, 2006 11:30 AM
I am a life long Republican and voted for Richard Pombo many times, but not this time. Mr. Pombo forgot why we sent him there. He became more concerned with things that were important to him and his land rich family than to the people he represented. But Mr. McNerney should take note. Remember who sent you to Washington and why. Be true to the environment and to the people of this district and bring our soldiers home or suffer Mr. Pombo's fate.
chink...November 08, 2006 11:12 AM

Tracy Press
Pombo defeated...John Upton, Danielle MacMurchy, Phil Hayworth
In a night that saw Democrats sweep to power in the House of Representatives, little-known challenger Jerry McNerney unseated Tracy's Rep. Richard Pombo from his perch as one of Congress' more powerful chairmen. In a stinging defeat, voters dumped Tracy’s 14-year congressman, Rep. Richard Pombo, from power Tuesday... Robert Benedetti, University of the Pacific government and politics professor, said the campaign was fought on national issues instead of local issues. He said Pombo’s agricultural base has been eroded as more people moved from cities into the district, and said McNerney had limited involvement in local politics to tout. Pombo encouraged the formation of a coalition that’s never worked together before,” said Defenders of Wildlife President Roger Schlickeisen. “It was really Pombo that drew us into this.”

San Francisco Chronicle
Challenger defeats Pombo in a stunner...Rachel Gordon
Pombo-McNerney matchup got the most attention, due to Pombo's high-profile as chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups targeted him as an "eco-thug" who once proposed selling off some national parks, led the drive to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, wants to let states drill for oil and gas off their coasts, and has pushed to revamp the Endangered Species Act to provide more rights for property owners. "We're thrilled," said Roger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, which made Pombo its top target in the congressional races. "Not only was he a vote against the environment, but as committee chair he could push his agenda.''

Inside Bay Area
Pombo's defeat recharges environmental movement...Douglas Fisher
Finally the environment has a voice in Congress. Activists, emboldened by Democratic gains across the nation Tuesday, savored what Carl Pope of the Sierra Club called "the most successful mid-term election for the environmental movement" since at least 1974. And the "sweetest victory of the night" was the toppling of Republican Rep. Richard Pombo by wind-energy consultant Jerry McNerney. McNerney captured "Pombo country"...Pombo, a once-and-future rancher and real estate developer, chairman of House Resources Committee and easily Public Enemy No. 1 of Sierra Club & Co., goes home after 14 years in Congress. Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director..."This sends a clear message to those who might share (Pombo's) ideology: When it comes to elections, the environment is a giant killer." And not just in California. Environmental groups targeted more than 30 "top of the ticket" elections across the nation and came up winners in almost all cases...

Contra Costa Times
In huge upset, voters oust Pombo...Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Thomas Peele and Ryan Huff
U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, once thought invincible in a safe GOP seat, has been turned out by voters in the Democratic storm that roared across the country Tuesday. With all the precincts tallied, Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton held a solid lead of 6 percentage points and more than 10,000 votes. The race will go down in California history as a massive upset in a district... Pombo aides said they would wait until all votes had been counted. Pombo is expected to hold a press conference sometime Wednesday. But it was a bitter loss for the proud incumbent who had easily won re-election six times and rose to become the chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee, where his conservative policies made him a prime target of environmentalists.

Mercury News
Pombo defeated by challenger McNerney in House fight...Barbara Feder Ostrov
With more than 99 percent of precincts reporting at 2:30 a.m. today, seven-term Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Stockton, faced defeat by Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney..t. Political observers predicted that Pombo could be swept from office by a national tide of anti-Republican sentiment. Washington Post ranked Pombo's campaign among the 10 worst-run incumbent campaigns in the country, and the Tracy rancher faced a last-minute onslaught of campaigning by well-financed environmental groups supporting McNerney. The race looked like many across the country, with an upstart Democrat becoming a serious challenger in what previously had been considered a safe Republican district. National politicians on both sides of the aisle considered it a high-stakes battle, with former President Bill Clinton stumping for McNerney and both President Bush and first lady Laura Bush rallying the party faithful on Pombo's behalf in the campaign's final stretch. As recently as three months ago, McNerney, a left-leaning wind energy consultant, was an underdog not even supported by his own party. But more recent polls showed McNerney gaining as Pombo faced anger from voters over his stay-the-course stance on Iraq and links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The race was an expensive one, with campaign contributions of more than $2.5 million pouring in on both sides.

Los Angeles Times
Feinstein wins 4th term, Pombo defeated...Rone Tempest and Dan Morain,1,2830985,print.story
In the most competitive of California's 53 congressional contests, seven-term incumbent Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy) was defeated by Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney to represent what had been a comfortably Republican district stretching from Stockton to the Bay Area's eastern suburbs. With 99% of the votes counted, Pombo trailed his challenger by 47% to 53%. Pombo angered environmentalists last year when his committee staff proposed selling off 15 national park sites, including more than 15 million pristine acres in Alaska...also urged more offshore oil drilling, a step that incurred Feinstein's wrath...his effort to weaken the Endangered Species Act went "to the core of what we fight for," said Mark Longabaugh, political director of Defenders of Wildlife, which joined with Americans for Conservation to spend more than $1 million to oust Pombo. Texas financier David Bonderman, a business associate of Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, gave at least $375,000 to the groups. Getty heiress Anne Earhart of Corona del Mar gave $100,000, and Julie Packard of Soquel, Calif., gave $50,000. Pombo and his supporters gathered Tuesday night at the Waterloo restaurant outside Stockton and acknowledged that the race was tight. "I wouldn't change a thing," he said, referring to his political stands. He also took a swipe at Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), probably the next speaker of the House, saying: "I hope she does a better job as speaker than she did as minority leader." According to pollster Ben Tulchin of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research...Pombo's stands on the environment were to the right of most voters in his district, one that has become less conservative as the suburban population has grown east of the Oakland hills in Pleasanton, Danville and Livermore. "The reality is that Pombo gave all the environmental groups a lot of things to work with," said Tulchin, retained by Defenders of Wildlife to survey the district.

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UC Bobcatflak Special on Measure G

Submitted: Nov 07, 2006

And now, folks, the UC Merced "professional economist" bobcatflak on Measure G.

It's clear we have a desperate state institution just north of Merced, its fraudulent mitigation strategy ($15 million in public funds) in tatters for lack of proper permits and incompetently or corruptly written easements. UC Merced is a political railroad running off its tracks, now reduced to seeking the legitimacy only a glittering new expressway, UC Merced Parkway, to its campus (wherever it ends up) might provide. The Parkway will be at once a visible status symbol of UC political clout and also give faculty, staff and students easier access to the highway leading to Fresno malls. The Parkway is the top priority expenditure for Measure G.

Therefore, on Election Day, UC deployed one of its faculty, a "professional economist" who opined that the Merced Sun-Star editorial policy is just dandy, to argue that Measure G is "voter driven." Only a UC Merced professional economist who claims to study the relationship between growth and politics could possibly be that stupid if, of course, the economist didn't just sign off on a letter composed by UC Merced Bobcatflak Central. This organ of tax-paid propaganda insists on believing that the general public is as dumb as a bunch of UC professors.

As for the Sun-Star, it was long ago correctly identified in these pages as the
"UC Merced Daily Bobcat." It is a deeply corrupt newspaper and you should read it with great care and curiosity on any public issue. That care will be rewarded because, without any great analytical strain, you quickly will be able to discern what special interest the Sun-Star is representing in its editorials on any given day. Sun-Star editorial policy reminds the careful reader of a red snooker ball lost in the middle of a game in which all the players are real drunk. In this case, the intoxicant is money and the energy is pure greed. If the public is not careful, it will end up in the corner pocket.

It is truly marvelous how the "professional economist" invokes the Great Depression for his argument. How elegant, how learned! By pure happenstance, a blameless scholar's particular academic interest coincides with the political reality in the neighboring "town," and the "gown" reaches down to offer guidance. Yet, it makes sense in a way. For the first time since the Depression, Americans are spending more than they save or make.

Secondly, there is the Parkway itself, so like typical Third World raod projects that extend grandly beyond the urban centers ... to nowhere. A university is not made by roads or by simpering hacks like this "professional economist."

"A university," as a refugee from Argentina once said, "is easy to destroy but very hard to build."

The community ought to be outraged at this blatant attempt by academic authority to meddle in local politics. Universities are made, slowly, by teaching and research, not as this atrocious boondoggle land deal has been fabricated, by political railroad. The Merced public knows much more about the graft behind this development project known as UC Merced than this insoucant academic seems to know.

In a flyer inserted in the Sun-Star Monday, a grassroots group quoted a letter from UC General Counsel James Holst, to the state Supreme Court, in support of the argument that state agencies should be exempt from traffic, police and fire impacts to communities beyond their property boundaries.

“In the CEQA process for the campus …local jurisdictions indentified approximately $200 million in improvements to local roads, parks and schools that they claimed would be made necessary by the new campus development, and argued that UC was obligated to pay for those improvements under CEQA. UC rejected those demands … in light of its exemption under the California Constitution.” (UC General Counsel James Holst amicus letter to California Supreme Court re. City of Marina et al, Sept. 12, 2003)

The state Supreme Court disagreed with UC.

The Sun-Star insisted the little flyer, on a piece of yellow typing paper, include a
statement that it was "paid political advertising." Check your pro-Measure G material -- we are sure you have some lying around you haven't yet thrown out -- and see if you can find any statements on it that it is "paid political advertising." It is just one more in a long list of cheating that surrounds the Measure G campaign.

To repeat: the Merced public knows a lot more about political graft than our PhD author knows.

Join us in the Great Measure G Guessing Game. The reader who comes closest to guessing the amount of money contributed to the Measure G campaign will win fleeting fame for being a better political economist than the UC hack whose propaganda appears below. The range for guessing should be somewhere between the half-million now reported, and whatever developers threw at the end (not reported until after the election) to produce yet more campaign material -- all gloss and no substance.

Vote NO on Measure G

Nov. 11, 2006
Merced Sun-Star
Letters to the editor:
We can help ourselves...SHAWN KANTOR, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, UC Merced...1st letter...As a professional economist who conducts research on how politics affects economic growth, I must admit to being fairly skeptical of politicians' claims that higher taxes are the answer to our fiscal challenges. Yet, in spite of this inherent skepticism, I strongly support Measure G...without becoming a so-called "self-help" county, we will not be eligible for matching state and federal money to improve our local infrastructure...also find appealing about Measure G is that it is voter driven. I was grateful to read Joe Kieta's Nov. 4 opinion column chiding Cathleen Galgiani and Jeff Denham for their categorical opposition to Measure G simply because it represents a tax increase. What makes Measures G, C (in Fresno), T (in Madera), K (in Stanislaus), and K (in San Joaquin) different is that they are citizen-initiated taxes, not taxes imposed on us against our will. Mr. Kieta has it exactly right, "Jeff Denham and Cathleen Galgiani need to start telling us the truth." Without becoming a self-help county and, thus, raising local funds, forget about trying to beat out the heavily populated areas of the state that have already elected to be "self-help." State and federal transportation money will continue to go there, not Merced County, if we fail to pass Measure G. I hope Merced County voters realize this simple reality and vote "yes" on Measure G and cast a vote in favor of the prosperous economic future of our county.

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