Growth

Just another day in Corruptionville

Submitted: Apr 05, 2006

I was into the County Administration Building today with another active citizen to look into what the County Counsel’s office had produced on a California Public Records Act request.

We were examining the documents and discussing them in a conference room. The conversation with the assistant counsel was going pleasantly, in fact in such a civilized fashion I was beginning to become disoriented and a little dizzy.

Only for a moment, however.

Soon enough the County Counsel barged into the room imperiously and told us we could not meet in that conference room, but had to go to another conference room. I felt more relaxed immediately.

He marched ahead and we followed to the other conference room. There he left us, with the door open onto the second-floor elevator lobby.

The rest of the meeting conducted amid lobby clatter after the obligatory petty county harassment of the public, I realized my pulse had returned to normal.

Returning home to peruse the daily news clips, I came across the following in the Merced Sun-Star:

Black Rascal Creek dam hasn’t made it past drafting table
By Leslie Albrecht
LALBRECHT@MERCEDSUN-STAR.COM
Last Updated: April 5, 2006, 06:20:51 AM PDT

A long-delayed reservoir could have prevented the major flooding that soaked the county Tuesday, according to Merced Irrigation District officials.
Five dams protect Merced from floods, and local officials have been lobbying Congress for decades to get a sixth dam constructed.
"If that project would have been in place today that could have mitigated or completely avoided the problems that we have," said MID Assistant General Manager Ted Selb. "The projects that we do have in place worked perfectly."

These people have only one speed: blaming another level of government for their own version of planning, which is to violate the laws of all superior jurisdictions as long as they can get away with it. Yet these same local officials are always lobbying Congress for more, more, and more infrastructure so that they and their friends can make big boodle on more and more growth. You could get the impression that they felt entitled, although they all have the dimmest views of entitlement. But when they don't get exactly what they want, they stamp their petty feet. Local leadership is really quite bewildering from a public point of view. I guess we're just suckers for a good comedy show.

Over the past 60 years the Army Corps of Engineers has built five flood retention projects surrounding the city. They include dams on Owens Creek, Burns Creek, Mariposa Creek and Bear Creek, and a reservoir near the former Castle Air Force Base.
Those dams stay dry for most of the year, said Selb. Their sole purpose is to intercept and store water during "high runoff events" and meter the water out through a pipe.
The only major stream without a dam is Black Rascal Creek.

Aha! Learn well, Merced. If the flooding gets worse – and the fabrications in this story suggests at least some local officials believe there is a strong likelihood it will – blame it on the Army Corps of Engineers, the very agency that has said, in essence, the University of California built the first phase of its Merced campus at its own risk because it did not even apply for the Clean Water Act permit required, and administrated by the Army Corps of Engineers, which ought to know, you see.

The Corps of Engineers has been in the process of building a flood control project for Black Rascal Creek since the early 1980s, but the project has never made it past the design phase, said Supervisor Deidre Kelsey.
The reservoir could have prevented the flooding this week, said Kelsey, as well as the serious floods in 1997 and 1998.
"Unfortunately the federal government never finished this series of water control projects and left the locals holding the bag," said Kelsey.
Called the Haystack Reservoir, the reservoir was slated to be built on land now set aside as part of the University of California, Merced's environmental mitigation.

Oh my! Two unpleasant sounds: fingernails scratching at cliff face on the way down; and the scratching of reckless rewrites of history. Kelsey’s only problem with UC Merced was that her husband’s ranch wasn’t included in the area suitable for getting fat conservation easements from the state because state officials evidently felt that vernal pools did not frequently occur amongst the Snelling dredge tailings. Since the famous university was in its planning stages, Kelsey’s fundamental political contribution to the massive speculative growth surrounding the campus has been to tell a group of influential farm leaders anything and everything that would keep them from looking at what was happening to Merced County agriculture – in the name of preserving Merced County agriculture.

She’s very good at this kind of double-talk and is only rarely caught in an out-and-out lie. But now local officials for the first time are facing the consequences of their catastrophic speculative growth boom in a valley, which among its other indubitable charms, on occasion floods. That’s where the rich agricultural soil comes from.

Now, listen to truly vintage One Merced Whine, delivered by a talented local lark, who, frequently leads One Merced Whine delegations to choir tours to Sacramento and Washington to lobby the very agencies that here she treats here with her county manners.

Now local officials are starting from scratch with an alternate project, said Kelsey, with $200,000 scraped together by Congressman Dennis Cardoza.
The alternative project could divert water from Black Rascal Creek and Bear Creek, carry it around Merced, then move it toward the grassland south of Merced where the water could flow back into the Merced and San Joaquin rivers.
One possible source of funding could be the governor's bond initiative, said Kelsey.
With at least 10 agencies involved in the next phase of the project, it could take years for the flood control system to be built, said Kelsey.
Working with federal government has been a slow and bureaucratic process, said Kelsey, who first met with the Corps of Engineers about the Haystack Reservoir in 1995.
Kelsey said she's seen seven engineers cycle through the project over the course of 10 years. It took 10 years of negotiations to install a new head gate on Edendale Creek, said Kelsey.
"I'm trying to work on it, but it's been very frustrating, because it's an inevitable situation that we'll flood again," said Kelsey. "But we're not prepared because we don't have jurisdiction over waters of the United States and we need cooperation from the federal government as well as numerous departments at the state level."

She just don’t have jurisdiction over the waters of the United States. If she just had that, everything would go better, particularly out in Snelling where ground water associated with Kelsey aggregate mining just keeps rising to the surface and flooding the neighbors.

Columns in both the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times this morning hit another, more owlish note, however, on behalf of the state’s taxpayers, presently on the hook for bailing out local jurisdictions that just don’t have authority over flooding surface waters of the United States.

Dan Walters, the Bee columnist, who lives in Roseville where creeks rise as rapidly as subdivisions sprawl, put it bluntly:

If locals want land-use power, they should share flood liability
Sacramento Bee – 4/5/06
By Dan Walters, Sac Bee columnist
http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/14239018p-15059259c.html

Everyone knows that it's risky to build large tracts of homes beside flood-prone rivers, but developers and local governments, especially in the fast-growing Sacramento area, are continuing to do it with little regard for the potential consequences - because financially and legally, they are protected from the consequences.
As long as the subdivisions comply with very outdated federal floodplain maps, or the promoters have obtained some sort of exemption from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there are no restrictions or flood insurance requirements. And under a recent state appellate court decision, if a levee fails and nearby homes are flooded, the state of California is liable, not developers or the local governments that approve the housing plans.
That court decision, involving a 1986 levee break in Yuba County that cost the state nearly a half-billion dollars, put the bifurcation of authority and responsibility in sharp focus. Local governments can approve all the housing they want next to levees in full knowledge that the state alone is liable for any flood damage, even though the state has no authority over development decisions. ...

Editorial: Before the levees break
Los Angeles Times – 4/5/06
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-ed-flood05apr05,1,3169028.story?coll=la-news-comment

IMAGES OF THE LINGERING devastation in New Orleans should be enough to persuade anyone not to bet the safety of their house or business on aging levees.
But Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) doesn't want to rely on voluntary efforts in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river valleys. His bill, AB 1898, would require all property owners in those watersheds to buy federal flood insurance if they faced at least a 1-in-200-years chance of flooding.
That mandate goes far beyond the current requirement, which applies only to those who obtain a mortgage or home-equity loan in areas with at least a 1-in-100-year risk.
The 1,600 miles of levees in the Central Valley are aging and vulnerable, and the low-lying area they protect — from Sacramento to the Bay Delta — floods with alarming frequency. Just Tuesday, levees broke in Merced and south of Sacramento, flooding a trailer park and fields.
It's not clear how many homes and businesses in the area are insured, but Jones offers a disturbing snapshot of North Natomas, a booming Sacramento district ringed by rivers. According to Jones, only 16% of the properties there have flood insurance.
The point isn't simply to protect property owners against their own shortsightedness. It's to protect taxpayers who'll probably have to bail them out when the floods inevitably come. The insurance requirement not only would create a pool of federal money for repairs but would prod developers to raise buildings above ground level and choose safer plots.
More important, the bill asks property owners to shoulder some of the cost and risk of living in an area that state and federal taxpayers are being asked to spend billions to protect. On Monday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee added $22.3 million for California levee projects to an emergency funding bill. Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who declared a state of emergency Feb. 24 over the levees, has called for at least $2.5 billion for upgrades.
The levees do more than protect property owners' investments; they help safeguard critical supplies of drinking water for the whole state. And they have enabled a boom in developments such as North Natomas, where houses have been built on top of what used to be flood-prone farms and wetlands...

To return to the fable told in the final paragraph Merced Sun-Star,

It will also take cooperation at the local level, said MID officials. There is no flood control agency in eastern Merced County, said Selb, and the response to this week's flooding was a coordinated effort involving MID, the county, and the city.
"MID is not a flood control agency, we're an irrigation district," said Selb. "Because of our expertise and because of our equipment, we collaborate and work closely with the county."

Public documents suggest another story. The Merced Sun-Star, which never reads public documents, could not, of course, have been expected to know.

In addition to providing irrigation water the District also uses its existing irrigation distribution system for local flood control by routing local foothills runoff and stream flood waters away from populated areas. The district formed the Merced Irrigation District Drainage District #1 in 1994. At the end of 2004, there were approximately 11,000 residential, commercial, industrial and governmental parcels located primarily within the urban area of the District that received drainage and flood protection service.

Merced Irrigation District audited financial statements
www.mercedid.org/_images/2004_annual_report.pdf –

Exert authority!

Badlands suggests that if the local officials want to do something really useful, having caused to much absorbent pasture uphill to be paved over and so many more homes to be built so close to unruly creeks, they ought to follow the great Persian king, Xerxes, and go out to Black Rascal Creek with whips and lash it, while supervisors Kelsey and Crookham curse it back into its banks. Then do the same with any other creek that dares rise in Merced, home of the first, environmentally friendly, UC campus of the 21st century, and all its attendant subdivisions – all of it built in violation of state and federal environmental law.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will stay home and dry and contemplate why environmental laws were ever written at all. Could at least some of the motive behind these despised acts have been the protection of life and property against rampaging local officials, development corporations, greedy large landowners, realtors and lending institutions, as well as floods?

Bill Hatch

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Request for support

Submitted: Mar 24, 2006

Dear Stakeholders,

We would like to ask you to join a number of local and regional groups that have signed on to a statement calling for a moratorium for Merced County growth until the general plan is updated and a moratorium against the corrupt practice of legal indemnification.

This is not a local issue.

We welcome newcomers and outsiders, including state and national groups beyond Merced County, to sign on to this statement against the corrupt, incompetent development policies here that are devouring agricultural land and natural resources. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, author of bills to abolish the critical habitat designation and co-author with Rep. Richard Pombo of the Gut-the-ESA, has his home congressional office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. Show that you know that Merced's chaotic, unlawful growth is the result of his policies and the payoff for those policies. Take it to where he lives.

Among the three items attached is a voice message from a developer to a county supervisor that spells out the real Merced County planning policy better than any politician or planner has ever done. The next item is our request for your support. The final item is the Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning.

The deadline for signing on is April 3, 2006. Please feel free to forward this request for support to any other groups you want to share it with.

Don't let the Pomboza destroy national environmental law and regulation for the benefit of its local relatives and contributors!

Sincerely,

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
P.O. Box 64
Merced, CA. 95341
cvsen@sbcglobal.net
cvsen@bigvalley.net

REQUEST FOR SUPPORT

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

Dear Stakeholders, March 23, 2006

Despite concerted opposition from the University of California, developers, elected and appointed public officials and planners, local citizen groups at a Merced County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Feb. 14 called for a moratorium on new development projects before a new county general plan is written. The groups also called for a moratorium on the corrupt practice of indemnification by public (UC) or private developers of local land-use authorities against legal costs arising from their approval of more urban sprawl in Merced County.

On March 6, Merced city schools officials echoed the call for a moratorium on growth that does not pay for itself – even for adequate public education for the arriving masses – before the Merced City Council.

3-7-06
Merced Sun-Star
Further city development opposed by school district...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11901831p-12671148c.html
Cries for a building moratorium Monday illustrate the failure of schools and developers to come to terms on impact fees for new homes...they want the council to apply the brakes to steamrolling development. In spite of protests from schools, the council unanimously voted to allow a 78-home development... City Attorney Greg Diaz said SB 50 ties the council's hands when it comes to requiring developments to pay school fees

The county supervisors tabled debate on a huge Ranchwood-proposed subdivision in Planada for two months when faced with this blunt, organized citizen opposition. Presumably, money will change hands and the Planning Department will be required to come up with new rhetoric before the project is reconsidered in April.

2-15-06
Merced Sun-Star
County unsure how to proceed with Planada homes proposal...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11809566p-12526323c.html
Planada - Valley developer John Sessions and two other property holders northwest of Planada want to take 1,400 acres of mostly farmland and turn it into a 4,700-home community. Local farmers and environmentalists showed up with written statements and poignant words deriding the development as a pave-over of prime farmland...chastised the Planada plan as "developer-driven growth."...wanted local communities -- instead of private developers -- to take the lead in mapping out how the county expands. There are already at least three other communities in the county where developers are taking the growth reins, county documents show. The committee said the housing development could potentially interfere with the county's 11-year-old general plan...block all large developments until the general plan is ironed out. None of the supervisors liked the idea of putting a "moratorium" on development, as some farmers and environmentalists suggested.

Presently, the way business is done in Merced County is well expressed by the following Feb. 3 telephone message from a developer to a supervisor:

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!
(Here audio version at: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11957936p-12722260c.html)

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

March 14th, 2006
Beware the web you weave
Badlandsjournal.com

March 16th, 2006
Sun shines on government in Modesto, but not in Merced
Badlandsjournal.com

March 17th, 2006
Midnight government in Merced County
Badlandsjournal.com

Now is the time for other groups representing public concern over the corrupt pattern of growth in the county, stimulated by the arrival of the UC campus, to consider joining the original groups and signing on to the Coalition Statement on the Merced County Planning Process.
---------------

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

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

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

We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

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

Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development CoRP.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club

-------------

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
MISSION STATEMENT

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

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341
------------------

For your group to sign on, just send back your organization’s name and contact person.

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341
cvsen@bigvalley.net
cvsen@sbcglobal.net

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Try, try again

Submitted: Mar 21, 2006

From:
Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced CA 95341
raptorctr@bigvalley.net

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350
sburke3105@sbcglobal.net

To:
City of Livingston 1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334
209-394-8041 ph.
209-394-4190 fax
Brandon Friesen
Mayor
Bfriesen@livingstoncity.com

Donna Kenny
Community Development Director
Donna@livingstoncity.com
Re: Public documents about the Hostetler/Livingston pipeline project

Date: March 21, 2006

Dear Livingston City Public Officials:

On February 6, we made a request under the California Public Records Act to inspect any indemnification agreements entered into by Greg Hostetler or Ranchwood Homes and/ or any of his associates, for example any companies controlled by Michael Gallo, ‘holding harmless’ the City of Livingston for any legal challenge to the environmental review of the proponents’ project. We also requested to inspect any documents showing any other agreements between the two named parties and the City of Livingston. We also requested to inspect any documents pertaining to any agreements between local business and industry (specifically Foster Farms) with regard to connection to the proposed waste water pipeline into the city of Livingston.

Pursuant to public rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.) and the California Constitution, as amended by passage of Prop 59 on November 3, 2004, we are writing to request to review all documents in City possession pertaining to the Ranchwood/Livingston pipeline including but not limited to:

(1) meetings
(2) emails
(3) correspondence
(4) phone logs
(5) memos
(6) inspections
(7) stop orders
(8) findings
(9) agreements
(10) staff reports
(11) We also request any documents pertaining to connecting the Ranchwood/Livingston sewer trunk line to any other unincorporated areas, for example, Michael Gallo and Kelly family land near Stevinson.

Also on February 6, per our PRA request, we reserved the right to inspect any documents identified subsequent to the above request, prior to any copies being made. We will give specific instructions as to which documents we need copies of when they have been identified and are available for inspection.

If you determine that any or all or the information is exempt from disclosure, we ask that you reconsider that determination in view of Prop 59, which has amended the state Constitution to require that all exemptions be “narrowly construed.” Prop 59 may modify or overturn authorities on which you have relied in the past.

If you nonetheless determine that the requested records are subject to a still-valid exemption, we would further request that: (1) you exercise your discretion to disclose some or all of the records notwithstanding the exemption; and (2) that, with respect to records containing both exempt and non-exempt content, you redact the exempt content and disclose the rest.

Finally, should you deny part or all of this request, you are required to provide a written response describing the legal authority or authorities on which you rely. Please also address the question whether Prop 59 requires disclosure even though authorities predating Prop 59 may appear to support your exemption claim.

If we can provide any clarification that will help expedite your attention to this request, please contact us at (209) 723-9283.

The statutory deadline is past. We would like the City to notify us when it is planning to make these public documents available to us.

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller Steve Burke

Cc: Bruce Owdom, Esq.
Badlandsjournal.com
Interested parties

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Midnight government in Merced County

Submitted: Mar 17, 2006

During the second annual national Sunshine Week, to underscore the need for more open government and the protection of California’s Public Records and Brown acts and other open government statutes, we are publishing for the first time the 2002 petition for San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water for relief from three years of stonewalling by Merced County regarding public record documents on the UC Merced project.

Petitioners won this suit. The results of the victory were ambiguous, however.

The local Superior Court judge, William Ivey, reduced attorneys’ fees and costs by half to petitioners’ winning attorneys, as warning to all attorneys suing in Merced County on public process or environmental law, that they would be punished by the local court for daring to do so. Although Ivey has retired, his policy lives on.

Although Merced County was forced to make these documents available to petitioners, much of the work reflected in the numerous studies remains yet to be done four years later, proving that UC Merced was built on a series of plans-to-make-plans to mitigate for its environmental impacts, with the enthusiastic collaboration of Merced County, the local land-use jurisdiction.

During the planning of UC Merced, the county was so eager to comply with UC demands that it formed a wholly separate planning department just for the UC Merced project, with separate offices and staff, placing the former county planning director and county CAO in charge, while the county promoted two subordinates to the positions of county CAO and county planning director.

In a March 13, 2006 Modesto Bee article http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html,
Greg Wellman reflected on this suit. Wellman was the Merced County CAO who became CEO of the UC Planning Department, said,
“I think a large amount of what she’s asking for is just a reflection of our democratic process,” he said. “I might personally feel some of the issues raised are not consequential, but those are personal feelings. She has a right to public information — pure and simple.”

Back then, though, Wellman said handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit.

“Back then,” a whole lot of costly lawsuits could have been avoided if the county, the local land-use authority, had not done everything in its power to conceal the UC Merced planning process from its local public, the people now impacted by the anticipated UC Merced-induced rapid growth, speculative housing boom, the wholesale destruction of natural resources, wildlife habitat and agricultural land by developers who figure if UC got away with it, they can, too. “Back then,” UC Merced was promoted by a small, powerful group of special interests: local legislators, large landowners, developers, financial institutions, realtors, and local businesses. They are now taking their profits. The citizens, who were sold out by corrupt county officials like Wellman and his top planner at the UC Planning Department, Bob Smith, now get the traffic, the deteriorated air quality, water of uncertain quantity and quality, and the endless stream of Bobcat Flak from UC Merced in the local newspaper.

The citizens will be stuck with $200 million costs for roads alone from the UC Merced project, as was stated by a UC attorney in a letter to the state Supreme Court in support of a suit that would release state agencies from any obligation to pay for off-site environmental impacts from their construction projects. (Marina, City of v. Board of Trustees, Case S117816, Supreme Court of California)

Labeled at the time by then President Pro Tem of the state Senate, John Burton, as a “boondoggle,” and by senior Sacramento Bee state Capitol columnist, Dan Walters, as “a barrel of pork,” UC Merced, we predict, will go down in the annals of California history of the “Catch Me If You Can” Era, as a legal and environmental scandal; and there will be a special place of notoriety reserved for county, state and federal legislators, state and federal resource agencies and national environmental non-profit corporations like The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society. It began as a political payoff by an ambitious governor, Gray Davis, to Valley politicians. We know what happened to Davis. The growth it is stimulating today the rapid destruction of natural resources, is ruining farming and ranching in the region, and is contributing daily to increased smog in the worst air basin in the US.

Since elected in 2002, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has occupied offices on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. Today, Cardoza is the leading anti-environmental Democrat in the House of Representatives, having authored two unsuccessful bills to destroy the critical habitat designation, and co-authored a third, with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Merced County will never become a responsible local land-use authority and planning agency as long as the Shrimp Slayer is squatting on the third floor.

Bill Hatch

Even today, Merced County does not comply with Public Records Act requests or environmental law and regulation. They are still orchestrating backroom deals, for example, this, Feb. 3, 2006 communication from a prominent developer and a county supervisor:

Feb. 3, 2006:

Hostetler, thinking he is making a call to Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, leaves a message on someone else’s answering machine:

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!
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BRUCE A. OWDOM - 077670
PETER G. FASHING - 195756
DIETRICH, GLASRUD, MALLEK & AUNE
An Association Including Law Corporations
5250 North Palm Avenue, Suite 402
Fresno, California 93704
(559) 435-5250
(559) 435-8776 [fax]

Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue
Center, Protect Our Water (POW),
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke

SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA

COUNTY OF MERCED

SAN JOAQUIN RAPTOR RESCUE CENTER, a California nonprofit corporation, PROTECT OUR WATER (POW), an unincorporated organization, LYDIA M. MILLER, an individual, and STEVE BURKE, an individual,

Petitioners,

-vs-

COUNTY OF MERCED, COUNTY OF MERCED BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, and DOES 1 through 25, inclusive,

Respondents.
__________________________________________

CASE NO.

PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDATE PURSUANT TO CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

[Government Code Section 6258]

1. The San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center (“SJRRC”), a California nonprofit corporation, whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources,habitats and wildlife, is a beneficially interested party. SJRRC is charged with the protection of various species of wildlife and with ensuring that commercial, industrial and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. SJRRC serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, as well as private entities, in their promotion of such development.

2. Protect Our Water (“POW”) is an unincorporated organization whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources, habitats and wildlife and is a beneficially interested party. Petitioner POW is charged with ensuring that commercial, industrial, and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. Petitioner POW serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, and private entities, in their promotion of such development.

3. Lydia M. Miller, a private citizen, is a resident of Merced County and is a beneficially interested party. Ms. Miller shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the development of the new University of California Merced campus (“U.C. Merced Project”) is insufficient to inform the public adequately as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of public funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Ms. Miller also serves as president of the SJRRC.

4. Steve Burke, a private citizen, is a beneficially interested party. Mr. Burke, like Ms. Miller, shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the U.C. Merced Project is insufficient to adequately inform the public as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Mr. Burke also serves as spokesperson for POW.

5. SJRRC, POW, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke also have standing as members of the public at large to enforce rights of public access to information and records that reflect the actions taken by governmental agencies and employees in their official capacities.

6. The County of Merced (“County”) was, and is at all times herein mentioned, a body corporate and politic, duly created and existing as a county under and by virtue of the Constitution and laws of the State of California.

7. The County of Merced Board of Supervisors (“Board of Supervisors”) is the governing body of the County of Merced, whose members are duly elected under and by virtue of the laws of the State of California.

8. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that respondents identified herein as Does 1 through 25 are public agencies, or their agents, representatives, or employees, as defined in Government Code section 6252(a), (b) and (d), and that each is also, in some manner, responsible for refusing petitioners’ requests for access to and copies of certain public records that petitioners have requested. Petitioners will seek leave to amend this petition when the names and capacities of these Doe respondents have been ascertained.

9. Petitioners seek relief against each respondent because respondents County and the Board of Supervisors have refused to disclose certain public records which petitioners have requested as more fully alleged below.

10. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that in or about 1995, the Board of Regents of the University of California (“Regents” or “U.C.” as the context may require) selected certain land located in the County as the site of its tenth campus. Following the selection of the university site, the County made certain amendments to its General Plan to accommodate the construction of the new campus and to establish area objectives with respect to the U.C. Merced Project, including, but not limited to, resource and wetland conservation, low impact urban development, and timely construction of the campus. The U.C. Merced Project has involved the interaction of several federal, state and local agencies, private entities and consultants in addition to community involvement.

11. On November 22, 1999, petitioner Lydia M. Miller sent a letter to Robert Smith, planning director for the Merced County U.C. Development Office, which is in charge of coordinating the activities of various departments and consultants working on the U.C. Merced Project. The November 22, 1999, letter requested that 24 separate, itemized documents and studies related to the U.C. Merced Project be produced. See exhibit A attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

12. On February 12, 2001, Ms. Miller and Steve Burke of POW sent a second request addressed to Robert Smith and then County Administrative Officer (“CAO”), Gregory B. Wellman, requesting public records pursuant to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). This second request sought documents related to County General, Community and Specific plans officially adopted by Merced County, including the plans themselves as last officially amended and adopted. The request also sought correspondence between the County and various departments and agencies concerning the County’s implementation and compliance with various laws and the County’s strategies related to population growth projections. The request likewise sought records relating to specific action taken by the Board of Supervisors on February 6, 2001. See exhibit B attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

13. On May 25, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke sent a third request to then CAO Gregory B. Wellman and planning director Robert Smith requesting certain documents pursuant to the CPRA. The May 25, 2001, letter requested public records pertaining to reimbursement and funding issues, planning, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence as it related to three areas: (1) the Merced County Integrated Plan, (2) $30 million set aside for acquisition of habitats, and (3) the Joint Statement of the County of Merced and the University of California Regarding Conservation Planning and Permitting in Eastern Merced County in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit C attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

14. On or about June 7, 2001, Fernanda A. Saude, Assistant County Counsel, on behalf of Dennis L. Myers, Merced County Counsel, responded to the May 25, 2001, request. The response stated, in relevant part, as follows:

Your request is not specific enough for us to discern exactly what you are asking for. The County in the past has provided you with the following documents:

* The Joint Statement of the County of Merced and University
of California for Conservation Planning and Permitting in
Eastern Merced County[,]

* The Merced County Integrated Plan (MCIP)[,]

* County consulting contracts, excepting those with attorneys
that are confidential or otherwise privileged.

See exhibit D attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

15. On August 6, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested that Messrs. Wellman and Smith reconsider the response provided by Assistant County Counsel Saude. Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke noted that despite the County’s contention that the request did not reasonably describe records, all of the other five public agencies to whom similar requests had been made fully complied. In addition, petitioners noted that from their review of the other agencies’ responses, that responsive documents such as correspondence, notes, memoranda, staff reports, meeting minutes, and the like, exist. Petitioners asked that compliance occur promptly given that the public period on the environmental review was fast approaching. See exhibit E attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

16. On August 21, 2001, petitioners advised the County, planning director Smith and then CAO Wellman that serious problems were being encountered by those members of the public who desired to participate in the environmental review process as provided in the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Included among these problems was the lack of availability of documents which were the subject of the various CPRA requests at issue herein. See exhibit F attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

17. On August 22, 2001,a fourth request was made to Robert Smith and members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings. The request sought public records related to the Long Range Development Plan (“LRDP”) and U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In this regard, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested documents related to the findings of the Regents in 1995 which led to the certification of the “Site Selection EIR” as referred to in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) for the LRDP. See exhibit G attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

18. Also on August 22, 2001, a fifth CPRA request was made. This fifth request was addressed to Messrs. Wellman and Smith as well as to the Board of Supervisors and sought public records relating to contract work performed by consultants in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit H attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

19. On August 27, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke made a sixth request pursuant to the CPRA. This sixth request was addressed to then CAO Wellman as well as the members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings and requested 13 categories of documents all related to or necessary for an evaluation of the U.C.’s LRDP and the DEIR for the proposed campus in eastern Merced County. See exhibit I attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

20. On or about August 30, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude wrote petitioners again contending that the petitioners’ request was too general for the County to comply. Ms. Saude also wrote that certain information (e.g., information communicated between consulting contractors and their subcontractors and findings referenced in the DEIR for the LRDP) were not “retained or controlled” by the County. See exhibit J attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

21. On August 31, 2001, attorneys for petitioners wrote to Messrs. Wellman and Smith and contended that, contrary to Assistant County Counsel Saude’s letter of June 7, 2001, the May 25, 2001, CPRA request contained sufficient specificity and that all other agencies to whom the same requests were made were able to comply. Petitioners’ attorneys requested that the County reconsider its insistence on further clarification and asked that the County provide a definitive response to the request. The August 31, 2001, letter further requested that, in the event the County contended certain requested documents were exempt, the remainder be released and its refusal to disclose withheld documents be justified. See exhibit K attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

22. On September 10, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude responded to counsel for petitioners’ August 31, 2001, letter stating categorically that the petitioners’ requests of May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, are denied. Ms. Saude reiterated the County’s continuing position that the requests were of insufficient specificity under the CPRA. Ms. Saude countered petitioners’ statement that all other agencies found the requests sufficiently specific with the following statement:

So that there is no uncertainty on the part of you or your clients, the County has denied your clients’request as previously stated until such time as your clients are able to reasonably identify the documents which they are requesting to inspect. . . .

. . . Moreover, how other public agencies may respond to your clients’ request is neither relevant to nor binding upon the County of Merced.

See exhibit L attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference. Petitioners allege that contrary to Ms. Saude’s contention, the fact that other public agencies had no difficulty in complying with the request based upon the same descriptors is relevant to the sufficiency of the descriptions. Petitioners further contend that respondents’ failure to comply is unjustified and in violation of the CPRA, Government Code section 6258 et seq.

23. On October 29, 2001, petitioners’ attorney again wrote to the County. This letter was addressed to Assistant County Counsel, Fernanda A. Saude who, to that date, had undertaken responses on behalf of respondents to petitioners’ CPRA requests. The letter set forth a detailed description of the six prior requests made by petitioners as alleged above, attached copies thereof, and reiterated that each of the requests were being made pursuant to the CPRA. Specifically, Ms. Saude was informed that (1) no response was received in connection with the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests; and (2) that as to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, the County’s denial of the requests on the basis they did not reasonably identify documents was in error. To illustrate the error, counsel’s correspondence cited case law which held that CPRA requests need only describe the content of documents due to the requestor’s lack of access to agency files and the resulting inability of the requestor to identify precisely the documents. The letter asked that the County reconsider its denial of the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests. The letter also specifically requested a response to the unacknowledged November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001 and August 27, 2001, requests. See exhibit M attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

24. On September 14, 2001, attorney Donald B. Mooney, on behalf of the petitioners, wrote then CAO Mr. Wellman advising that the County had violated CEQA and CEQA guidelines. The letter highlighted deficiencies in the County’s public notice procedures relating to the availability of environmental documents for public review. The letter requested a re-noticed review period and remedies related to errors in circulation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report. See exhibit N attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

25. To date, no response has been received from respondents to petitioners’ attorney’s October 29, 2001, letter. Similarly, the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests (even though re-requested by the October 29, 2001, letter complete with copies thereof) remain unacknowledged and without response. As to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, respondents persist in their denial of the requests despite the adequacy of the content descriptions and petitioners’ inability to provide greater detail.

26. Petitioners contend the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records subject to disclosure. The documents requested by the November 22, 1999, request include the following reports and studies: Fresh Water Crustacean Report by EIP; Water Supply Plan by Hill; GIS maps; Vernal Pool Study; LRDP Plan; Habitat Planning; Campus Parkway Express Plan; CPAC Meeting Notification; East Merced Draft Report; Community Plan for U.C.; Draft Report of Soils, Habitat and Rare Species Associated; Draft Report on Soils Report; Merced River Study, Stake Holders and TAC; Concept Report; Regional Transportation Plan (MCAG); University Community Concept (EIP); California Central Economics (PG&E); Water Study by East Merced Resource Conservation District; Sierra Nevada Research Institute; University Wide Academic Senate Task Force on U.C. Merced; Task Force on U.C. Merced; U.C. Merced Research Advisory Committee; Campus Alignment Study; Financial accounting of incoming and outgoing funds associated to the proposed U.C. Campus and Community Plan and associated studies. The County has refused to even acknowledge this request. As with the other CPRA requests at issue, there is no justification for non-disclosure.

27. The documents requested by the February 12, 2001, request include, but are not limited to, the following: the County General, Community, Specific and Specific Urban Development plans (“SUDP”), the County’s General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise, and Open Space Elements, including all incorporated diagrams, maps, policies and texts; officially adopted resolutions and ordinances adopting the SUDP; written policies, correspondence, reports and studies of County boards, commissions and planning committees relating to the SUDP and General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise and Open Space Elements; legislative history re: ordinances or resolutions adopting the 1996 General Plan Text Amendments which adopted Land Use Policy Goal No. 11 and amendments to the Land Use Policy Diagram; information relating to pending General Plan Text Amendments; information relating to General Plan map or text amendment applications since 1990; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Housing re: compliance with Housing Element law; correspondence between the County and California Division of Mines and Geology re: compliance with mining and reclamation ordinances and related reports and studies; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Finance regarding population growth and related reports and studies; and agendas, notices, and minutes related to Board of Supervisor’s action on February 6, 2001.

28. The May 25, 2001, CPRA request seeks documents pertaining to planning, reimbursement, funding, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence related to the following three areas: the Merced County Integrated Plan; a $30 million acquisition of sensitive habitats, and the Joint Statement of the County and U.C. re: conservation planning and permitting.

29. Two separate CPRA requests, dated August 22, 2001, seek documents pertaining to contract work performed since 1985 by EIP Associates, Economic and Planning Systems, Fehr & Peers Associates, and Nolte & Associates in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. The first request included items such as “emails, meeting minutes and agendas, internal memos, etc.” The second request made that same date seeks public records pertaining to the LRDP and the U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In that regard, petitioners specifically sought the “Regent’s findings made in 1995 in connection with certifying . . . the ‘Site Selection EIR[]’”as well as other documents such as staff reports, resolutions and ordinances supporting or setting forth the 1995 certification.

30. The August 27, 2001, CPRA request sets forth thirteen specific subject areas for which public records are sought. These areas include documents relating to (1) the standards to be applied by the Committee on Grounds and Buildings (“Committee”) when choosing among alternative sites and design alternatives; (2) the U.C.’s decision to select among alternatives discussed in the March 2001 Comprehensive Alternatives Analysis of the U.C. Merced and Community Project (“CAA”); (3) the Committee’s deliberations or decisions regarding alternative U.C. sites; (4) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in implementing CEQA; (5) the U.C.’s environmental policies and procedures in choosing campus sites, facilities and improvements; (6) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in drafting and distributing long range development plans; (7) the legal authority relating to drafting long range development plans; (8) the U.C.’s policies and procedures re: conducting taxpayer/U.C. economic analyses in connection with campus site selection; (9) the U.C.’s legal and/or equitable ownership or leasing of Fresno County properties; (10) alternative offers of other property owners to provide land for the proposed campus; (11) reasons why the single campus as proposed in County are preferable to other alternatives; and (12) the 85 potential campus site alternatives. An additional thirteenth category seeks documents related to the U.C. Merced Project which were authored by or on behalf of Representative Gary Condit, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, Senator Dick Monteith, Governor Gray Davis, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Resources Secretary Mary Nichols and other elected officials or agency members.

31. Petitioners allege that the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records as that term is used in the CPRA. The requested documents relate to the conduct of the public’s business in developing a tenth campus in the University of California educational system. Substantial public funds are being expended in developing the campus and in undertaking all the various environmental, fiscal, educational, commercial and suburban studies and reports related to the U.C. Merced Project. The requested information is necessary for the public to analyze and evaluate the performance of the County and other government agencies in developing the campus. The documents will allow the public to understand whether its significant financial contribution to the U.C. Merced Project is being wisely spent and whether the County is proceeding in accordance with applicable laws and regulations for a project of this magnitude.

32. Petitioners allege disclosure will also shed light on whether appropriate and/or inappropriate considerations have been involved in the decision making processes of the various governmental agencies and officials involved, including, but not limited to, the County and its duly elected officials.

33. Petitioners allege that the public has a right to know how its funds, including tax revenues, are being spent and whether its duly elected officials are undertaking the U.C. Merced Project in a fiscally and environmentally sound manner. The documents sought are necessary to such determinations. Furthermore, petitioners allege that CEQA requires the respondents to ensure that the public can obtain and review all documents upon which the agency relies in making environmental decisions and therefore constitutes another basis for disclosure. The shared expertise of petitioners and others who desire to review requested documents will serve to ensure that elected and other officials make sound decisions related to the U.C. Merced Project.

34. Each of the six CPRA requests at issue have reasonably described identifiable records as required under California Government Code section 6253(b). In violation of the CPRA, respondents have simply ignored three of the petitioners’ CPRA requests. As to the remaining three CPRA requests, respondents have avoided and ignored their responsibilities by making frivolous contentions that each of the categories of requested documents does not sufficiently describe the records sought. Respondents have violated the CPRA by not making said records available to petitioners for inspection. Furthermore, respondents have failed to identify any exemption (except for attorney-client privilege) upon which they might rely to justify non-disclosure. Respondents have made no effort to comply with the CPRA and instead choose to either ignore petitioners’ CPRA requests outright or to feign an inability to discern the records requested. By way of this petition for writ of mandate, petitioners seek a writ commanding disclosure of the requested documents.

35. Petitioners have no plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law, other than the relief sought in this petition, pursuant to Government Code section 6258.

WHEREFORE, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke pray for relief as follows:

1. That the court grant the petition and issue a peremptory writ commanding respondents, and each of them, including respondents’ agents and employees, to disclose immediately to petitioners originals or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

2. Alternatively, that the court order respondents, and each of them, to show cause why respondents should not be required to disclose immediately to petitioners original or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, and all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

3. For costs and attorneys’ fees as provided by the California Public Records Act; and

4. For such other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.

DATED: May ____, 2002.
DIETRICH, GLASRUD, MALLEK & AUNE

BY:________________________________
BRUCE A. OWDOM
PETER G. FASHING
Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor
Rescue Center, Protect Our Water (POW)
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke

| »

Beware the web you weave

Submitted: Mar 14, 2006

Contributors to Badlands sent “Merced Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event,” March 10, 2006, to a number of individuals, one of whom was Bobby Lewis, the recently hired county planning director who arrived from Nevada without a resume available to the public.

Lewis replied to the article:

----- Original Message ----- From: "Robert Lewis"
To:
Sent: Saturday, March 11, 2006 5:06 AM
Subject: Re: BadlandsJournal -Merced's Development Rodeo

Ranchwood homes was issued a stop work order. Based on findings ...
--------------------------

We decided to search for evidence of the stop-work order and the findings. The search took us back a couple of years.
--------------------------

Feb. 3, 2004:

MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AGENDA
http://www.co.merced.ca.us/bos/boardagenda/current.pdf
10:30 A. M.
PLANNING - PUBLIC HEARING
Appeal of Planning Commission approval to approve Major Subdivision Application No. 03001- McPherson Subdivision submitted by Bryant Owens. Application submitted by Ranchwood Contractors to subdivide two parcels totaling 19.0 acres into 96 residential building lots on property located on the south side of Savanna Road and 580 feet west of Santa Fe Avenue in the Le Grand area.
----------------------------------------
Feb. 4, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/newsview.asp?c=93758 Supervisors: Le Grand development may proceed…Ranchwood Homes
----------------------------------

Feb. 28, 2004:

http://www.modbee.com/2004/election/merced/supervisors/story/8190479p-9040645c.html 2-25-04
Candidate’s poll raises questions about support
Lee Neves says it was an innocent mistake when he attributed an $8,500 polling expense to a political action committee instead of local developers…six contributors: Bert A. Crane Jr., a Merced farmer and rancher; Rucker Construction of Merced; Ranchwood Homes of Los Banos; Trans County Title of Merced; Maxwell Enterprises of Merced, a construction and development company; and James Abatte of Merced, who owns a number of fast food franchises in the county.
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July 22, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/8882627p-9772671c.html …Melanie Turner…Donation brings UC gym bit closer…
University of California, Merced, got off to a strong start with a
$500,000 donation from Greg and Cathie Hostetler, Los Banos developers of Ranchwood Homes for a gymnasium, featuring a NCAA regulation-size basketball court and seating for 480. The university plans to fund the recreation center in large part with a loan from the UC office of the president, which would be paid back in student fees, Wyan said. Gymnasiums, dormitories, dining halls and other nonacademic facilities cannot be financed with state money, Wyan said. Campbell said there likely will be intramural sports in the 2005-06 school year, as well as sailing and other water sports at nearby Lake Yosemite.
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Dec. 8, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9564250p-10454279c.html …Adam Ashton…Developer gets tacit OK for sewer pipe…
LIVINGSTON — Projections for growth on the city’s outskirts look so good that one developer is ready to build a sewer connection for a project that won’t
take shape for several years. Ranchwood Homes asked the City Council if it could move ahead with plans to build a nearly one-mile sewer extension south of Livingston for a planned 300-home development that is still in its concept stages. Council says it’s his risk if homes don’t win approval.
-----------------------------

Dec. 21, 2004:

Some sections from:

Agreement to design, construct and dedicate section of sewer pipeline by and between City of Livingston and Ranchwood Homes Corp.

… WHEREAS, City needs to add a pipeline section … to the System outside the City’s current boundaries to serve the City; and

WHEREAS, City has determined the New Section project is categorically exempt under the California Environmental Quality Act; and

WHEREAS, City does not currently have the financial resources to design, acquire rights of way and construct the new Section; and

WHEREAS, Ranchwood is willing to incur all of the costs to design, acquire the rights of way and construct the New Section then dedicate it to the City …

1. Ranchwood will use its reasonable best efforts to acquire, at Ranchwood’s expense, the necessary temporary construction and permanent utility rights-of-way necessary for the construction, operation and maintenance of the New Section and related pipelines and facilities, which may be required in the future. In the event Ranchwood is unable to acquire these rights-of-way, City may take the appropriate and necessary steps to acquire the rights-of-way …

3. Ranchwood agrees to defend, indemnify, and hold the City or its agents, officers and employees harmless from any claim, action, or proceeding against the City or its agents, officers, or employees to attack, set aside, void or annul, an approval of the City concerning this Agreement and/or the New Section, which action is brought within the time period provided for in Section 66499.37 of the Government Code of the State of California.

4. (Same language as above except) “prior to acceptance of the New Section to the City.”

5. Ranchwood agrees to dedicate the new Section to the City upon completion of the New Section and acceptance as complete of the New Section by the City’s public works director. Acceptance shall be timed to when connection to City System occurs.

6. City agrees to establish and maintain a mechanism to collect funds from new development, if any, which might be served by the new Section, to reimburse Ranchwood in full for the costs and expenses incurred by Ranchwood under the terms and conditions of this Agreement … so that all new development, if any, served by the new Section pays its pro rata share of the Reimbursable Costs and Ranchwood is reimbursed all of the Reimbursable Costs …

The rest of the agreement basically says that Ranchwood proceeds on this project at its own risk. There are risks: Livingston has no jurisdiction over the land through which the pipeline will pass.

CALIFORNIA CODES
GOVERNMENT CODE
SECTION 66499.37: Any action or proceeding to attack, review, set aside,
void or annul the decision of an advisory agency, appeal board or
legislative body concerning a subdivision, or of any of the
proceedings, acts or determinations taken, done or made prior to such
decision, or to determine the reasonableness, legality or validity
of any condition attached thereto, shall not be maintained by any
person unless such action or proceeding is commenced and service of
summons effected within 90 days after the date of such decision.
Thereafter all persons are barred from any such action or proceeding
or any defense of invalidity or unreasonableness of such decision or
of such proceedings, acts or determinations. Any such proceeding
shall take precedence over all matters of the calendar of the court
except criminal, probate, eminent domain and forcible entry and
unlawful detainer proceedings.

This section would apply if Livingston had the legal right to approve this project in the first place.
-----------------------

Dec. 22, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9652113p-10536591c.html Adam Ashton…
Work can start on Livingston sewer line…
The City Council and Ranchwood Homes agreed Tuesday night that the builder can proceed with its plans to place a 5,100-foot-long sewer pipe just outside of Livingston’s sphere of influence at its southwest corner
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Feb. 3, 2005

Investigation unit was on move before board vote…Scott Pesznecker
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9885814p-10731412c.html
Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer was so confident the Board of Supervisors would OK a proposed move of his investigations staff that he had the office’s employees pack up their desks before supervisors even voted Tuesday. The day after supervisors approved his plans, more questions surfaced about $16,000 in renovations to the new office space made before supervisors signed off on the move. Spencer also mentioned using the asset forfeiture money at Tuesday’s supervisor’s meeting.
Merced County Auditor Stephen Jones said late Wednesday he couldn’t find any records of money drawn from the county treasury to be paid to Hostetler, Ranchwood Homes Corp. or Ranchwood Contractors, Inc. However, there are two other funds Spencer has access to that do not need Jones’ signature on a check, though they still need supervisors’ approval. Schecter, who is
also an ethics professor at CSU Fresno specializing in local government, said the lease agreement could have been handled better from start to finish. “Ethically, I think there are some problems,” he said.
--------------------------------------------------

April 25, 2005:

Development closer to reality…Adam Ashton
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/10373719p-11176985c.html
LIVINGSTON — Two major subdivisions on the outskirts of town are inching closer to reality with a city analysis of their environmental impacts expected at the end of the year. The Ranchwood and Gallo plans together make up about half the number of homes Livingston has on its books now with a mix of more than a dozen other subdivisions. That’s why the two companies are footing most of the bill for the city’s new master plan and environmental documents.
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Oct. 19, 2005

Added funds propel Livingston Master Plan…Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11369021p-12116135c.html
Funding is now in place to create Livingston’s new master plan. With the presentation of a check for $155,760 to the Livingston City Council at last night’s meeting, developer Ranchwood Homes provided the last portion of funds need to create the new plan. Two other developers, Gallo and Del Valle, have already made major contributions to fund the plan.
---------------------------------------------

Nov. 16, 2005

Livingston OKs draft of city in 2025…Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11486665p-12225871c.html
The council unanimously approved a draft project description of a Master Environmental Impact Report…the consultants writing the impact report now have a map of where Livingston intends to develop and a timeline for when it will get there. …representatives from Ranchwood Homes and Gallo Homes, both of which are planning large subdivisions in Livingston, urged the council to move forward. Both Ranchwood and Gallo are paying for most of the consultants’ work on the city’s new impact report.
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Dec. 13, 2005:

Merced County Board of Supervisors authorized the updating of its General Plan, absurdly outdated since UC Merced was amended in to a plan that emphasized the protection of Merced County’s rural, agricultural and natural resources.
----------------

Jan. 21, 2006:

Session to tackle city’s effort toward affordable homes…Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11714888p-12438920c.html
LIVINGSTON — New housing is popping up all over town, but how many residents can actually afford it? Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler said forcing developers to keep prices low can backfire by driving up the cost of market-rate units. Hostetler said inclusionary housing ordinances are relatively new to Valley cities… Livingston is looking at inclusionary housing..
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Jan. 24, 2006:

Loose Lips: Land baron becomes local celeb…David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11724259p-12448018c.html
When Merced land baron Greg Hostetler isn’t donating fists full of money to his pet charities, “Mr. Ranchwood Homes” is giving away his John Hancock. Hostetler, arguably the county’s most successful homegrown developer, said he was stopped recently by a man who wanted his autograph.
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Jan. 25, 2006:

The General Plan Review Steering Committee, a shadowy, backroom body whose members are unknown to the public (Supervisor Deirdre Kelsey, however, is known to be a member) and whose meetings are not announced publicly, found it could not reach a consensus on the updating of the Planada Community Plan. A lawsuit on this plan is now in state appellate court. However, what concerned the committee that day was that developers, including Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, of a 1,450-acre project called Village of Geneva at Planada,” outside of the Specific Urban Development Plan of Planada, were asking for a community plan update that would include their project.
-------------------------

Jan. 27, 2006:

Annexations OK’d; city grows by nearly 200 acres…David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11736481p-12459428c.html
MERCED - Two Merced annexations gained final approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission on Thursday morning and a third was tabled until next month. • The Ranchwood N Street Annexation • And the Mission Avenue Annexation. LAFCO commissioners held off on approving the Barnell Annexation, a 73 acre swath south of Cardella Road. That annexation proposal will be discussed at the next LAFCO meeting on Feb. 23.
----------------------------

Feb. 3, 2006:

Hostetler, thinking he is making a call to Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, leaves a message on someone else’s answering machine:

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!
----------------------------

Feb. 6, 2006:

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect our Water and Bryant Owens (Planada Community Association), wrote to Lewis, John LeVan (Local Agency Formation Commission), the Board of Supervisors, and Livingston Mayor Brandon Friesen. It was posted on Badlands, Feb. 7, “Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston.”

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lydia M. Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water
Bryant Owens- Chairman Planada Community Development Corporation
Cc: Interested Parties
--------------------

Feb. 7, 2006:

Sent By: County of Merced; 209 726 1337; Feb-7-06 4:16PM; Page 2/2
j14 EIjlEIJra4st Ruben CastiIlo

COUNTY COUNSEL County Counsel
COUNTY
February 7, 2006
Transmitted bythcsirnile &U.S Mail

Ms. Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
3 105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada
Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced, CA 95340-9550

Regarding: Sewer Line Extension to the Ranchwood Homes Development located in or about the City of Livingston

Gentlepersons:

This letter is sent in response to yours of February 6, 2006. We have careftilly considered the information contained in your letter and value your input At this point, the County is in the process of gathering information regarding the status of the installation of this sewer line and the development project that it serves. We would appreciate your relaying to us any further information you have concerning these matters.

Sincerely,

RUBEN E. CASTILLO
MERCED COUNTY COUNSEL

WALTER WILLIAM WALL,
DEPUTY COUNTY COUNSEL
WWW/jaf
CC: Robert Lewis, Development Services Director
-----------------------------

Feb. 8, 2006:

Groups Aim to Stop Sewer Line Construction …Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11781260p-12500357c.html
Environmental groups want Ranchwood Homes to halt construction on a sewer line in Livingston, according to a letter released Monday.The San Joaquin Raptor Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, and Planada Community Development Corp. say that Livingston shouldn’t have approved construction of the sewer line because the project is on county land.
“The city of Livingston should not have given Ranchwood any authority to do anything out there,” said Bryant Owens of the Planada Community Development Corp. “Ranchwood needs to stop what they’re doing and come back to the county and get an annexation.”
The mile-long sewer line between Vinewood and Magnolia Avenue could eventually connect a proposed 420-acre Ranchwood Homes subdivision to Livingston’s wastewater treatment plant.
The environmental groups say the sewer line can’t go in until Ranchwood gets permission to annex the land, meaning that the land would be brought into Livingston’s city limits. But Livingston has been following the rules, according to Interim City Manager Vickie Lewis.
“We followed every regulation that was required of us,” said Lewis. “We have only gone as far as phase one, which is our only responsibility at this time. Anything beyond that is between the county and (Ranchwood).”
Ranchwood has received three encroachment permits from the county so far, but the county won’t issue any other permits until the county responds to the environmental groups’ charges, said Development Services Director Bobby Lewis …
Ranchwood Homes officials could not be reached for comment.
--------------------------------

Feb. 9:

A number of local agriculture and environmental groups had been debating whether to call for a moratorium on the approval of new projects before the General Plan update. Prior to meeting on this day, there was momentum to call for a moratorium both on approvals of new projects and on bringing an end to the habit of developers (either public like UC or private) indemnifying local land-use jurisdictions for legal expenses arising from lawsuits brought against them for approving arguably bad projects. Special interests, however, won the day by managing to orchestrate the defeat of the call for a moratorium. Nevertheless, as readers will not below, not all was lost.

Meanwhile, the City of Livingston wrote a letter to San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center et al, expressing outrage that their civic wisdom should be questioned by “outsiders.”

RE: Your February 6, 2006 letter

Dear Sirs and Madam,

This letter has been prepared in response to the allegations contained in your letter dated February 6, 2006. You state that the City of Livingston has authorized a private developer to install a 42 inch sewer main outside of city limits and our sphere of influence. This information is incorrect. The project in question is a private pipeline within an easement-secured right-of-way, on private property within the County. The City did not authorize its construction. The City of Livingston agreed to be the lead agency for the environmental review of a portion of the pipeline because the pipeline may eventually be dedicated to the City. The City’s only role at the jobsite is to inspect the pipeline to determine if it would meet City standards in the event it is dedicated to us. Period.

You claim that the City did not follow the appropriate environmental review protocols. This too is an incorrect assumption. The project was reviewed in detail by the City’s consultants. Meetings and discussions were held with City Council before a determination was made that a statutory exemption under Public Resources Code 21080.21 could apply. The resulting Notice of Exemption and a Design, Construct, and Dedicate Agreement were presented by our City Attorney and approved by City Council at their regular meeting of December 21, 2004. You further state that the installation of these municipal services are a prelude to the annexation of Ranchwood land on Westside Blvd. This also is incorrect. This is a private, not municipal, pipeline and item #7 of the Design, Construction, and Dedication Agreement states: Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to obligate the City to approve any future land use projects proposed by Ranchwood.

Your letter goes on to state that the City’s authorization of the project allowed grading and deep ripping to occur on agricultural land in violation of the County’s Williamson Act Zoning. Again, the City did not authorize this project located outside of city limits, and no grading or encroachment permit applications were submitted for our review and approval.

You claim that neither a Notice of Exemption for the pipeline nor a Notice of Preparation to expand our Sphere of Influence was filed. According to CEQA guidelines, the City is not required to file a Notice of Exemption. The appeal deadline for this Notice of Exemption was June 20, 2005. The City has recently released our Notice of Preparation of a Master Environmental Impact Report (MEIR) for our General Plan Update and proposed changes to our Sphere of Influence. The comments deadline for this MEIR Notice of Preparation was February 2, 2006.

You have made allegations that the City Council violated California Government Code 65402 which requires mandatory referral to LAFCo and Merced County Planning. There was no submitted project application to refer to these agencies. Our consultants contacted both agencies concerning the CEQA exemption. In discussions with County Planning staff, it was suggested that the City be the lead agency but that the County would require the applicant to apply to them for any encroachment permits necessary to disturb County-maintained roadways. County staff indicated that LAFCo would not serve as the lead agency because the project is a “dry pipe” that will not extend sewer services. From a City staff position, utilizing the City as lead agency was preferable in that we could inspect the pipeline for compliance with City standards and codes before possible dedication.

You claim there is no evidence of a tax and revenue sharing agreement between the City and County. There is nothing for the two agencies to agree on. These agreements happen during the annexation process, which would be premature at this point in time. Should annexation happen, the public hearing process will be followed.

Your letter questions the employment status of a Donna McKinney. Ms. Donna M. Kenney (correct spelling), our Community Development Director, has been employed by the City of Livingston since April 11, 2005. She is not acting Director of Planning and has never worked for our consultants, PMC. She was hired four months AFTER the City and Ranchwood signed the Design, Construct, and Dedicate Agreement for the pipeline. To imply that she has been collaborating with Ranchwood Homes is ludicrous and slanderous.

Your allegation that our City Council has violated the Subdivision Map Act is baseless. The Subdivision Map Act applies to parcel maps and subdivision maps. No subdivision of land has been proposed or considered by the City or the County in connection with this pipeline.

Your letter further states that Ranchwood has requested prezoning prematurely. The City requires that prezoning and General Plan amendment applications be filed and approved concurrently with annexation applications. Although the City received and reviewed a concept plan from Ranchwood for land use assumptions for its General Plan update, there are no active applications in process for the 300 acres at Westside Blvd.

You question whether or not the City will be able to provide services to areas proposed to come into our Sphere of Influence. The City is currently updating its five Master Plans: Water, Wastewater, Stormwater, Parks, and Roadways. These Master Plans will tell us and LAFCo whether or not we can provide those services. No Will Serve letters have been issued to Ranchwood.

Finally, Mr. Owens was quoted in the Merced Sun-Star newspaper on February 8, 2006 as stating “There’s got to be some kind of money changing hands” between the City and Ranchwood. This is an absolutely irresponsible and untrue comment aimed at damaging our community and we demand an apology. Your documented pursuit and vendetta against Ranchwood Homes has placed our City in the middle of mud slinging and we will not stand for it. Most of our department heads have been with the City less than 2 years. This new staff has worked long and hard to earn the trust of our citizenry with meetings and workshops and you have managed to push us back to square one with one thoughtless and inflammatory comment. Had you the dignity to come into our City and ask us for this information directly, we would have gladly met with you and provided you with the answers you seek. Instead, you have managed to tarnish the reputations of all the environmental groups with which you claim association.

Sincerely,

Brandon Friesen
Mayor, City of Livingston

cc: Robert Lewis, Director of Planning and Economic Development, Merced County
John LeVan, Local Agency Formation Commission, Merced County
Merced County Board of Supervisors
Livingston City Council
Livingston Planning Commission
Merced Sun-Star
Livingston Chronicle
Channel 30 News
----------------------------------

Feb. 14, 2006:

The General Plan Review Steering Committee couldn’t decide if it could recommend the Hostetler et al developer-sponsored Planada plan update before completion of the county General Plan Update. So, it threw the problem to staff. Staff advised the supervisors that either they could continue to process community plan updates (there are at least three currently driven by developers) while updating the General Plan, or it couldn’t. Or it could except where prime farmland would be involved (as in the Planada project). Or, it could hold “in abeyance any and all General Plan amendment applications.”

The board continued discussion of the issue for two months.

Valentine’s Day at the Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting was lively. The supes, staff and developers were trying to sneak through a plan to make a plan about how, maybe, someday, they’d update the county General Plan, but in the meantime developers and their friends in the county Administration Building wanted to make certain the chaotic process of growth would continue unabated with as little regulation as possible. This involved fixing a shadowy, backroom committee called the General Plan Steering Committee, which had recently stubbed its toe on Planada development.

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and the Planada Community Association replied to the scheme with the following letter. Attached to the letter was a statement from a coalition of local groups calling for a moratorium on new projects until a general-plan update is completed, and a moratorium on any further legal indemnification of local land-use agencies (cities and the County):

On Item 31: General plan amendment policy and procedures (Badlandsjournal.com, Feb. 14, 2006)
Letter to the Merced County Board of Supervisors on General Plan Amendment Policy and Procedures during the General Plan Update Process

Re: General Plan Amendment Policy and Procedures during the General Plan Update Process

Agenda Item 31

Date: Feb. 14, 2006

Members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors:

This policy and its procedures are nothing but a license for developer-driven growth with impunity for three or more years. County planning staff apparently has written Item 31 to implement unfinished, developer-funded, community plans while the county general plan update process is going on. It will not wash.
Item 31 is unacceptably vague. It sounds like a plan for a bunch of “updates.” However, it isn’t stated whether there are major zoning changes, added densities, or what. If we had to guess, we would say the steering committee, board of supervisors, planning commissioners and planning staff are laying the groundwork for a bunch of major residential and commercial projects, but they want to front load a lot of the work, so that by the time they have to do a project-level EIR, they can tier off of the plan update EIRs.

Most significantly, they don’t disclose anything about the nature of these “updates.” Nor are they providing needs or impact analyses for these proposed “policies and procedures,” which, in their present state, amount to further piecemealing the existing general plan, contributing to greater cumulative impacts. Item 31 constricts the geographical area any general plan update will be left to consider. It also results in limiting the environmental review of these as-yet-unnamed development projects within unfinished, developer-funded community plans.

To begin with a procedural issue, this steering committee does not appear on the county website, its meetings are not announced to the public, its membership is rumored but not publicly known, its scope of authority and responsibility is nowhere described for the public. And, whatever rules govern this steering committee do not supercede state guidelines and regulations governing the general plan update process. It is said to be composed of several county supervisors and county planning commissioners. The rumor goes that, when confronted by two Planada developers, about possible impacts of a new general plan to their developments, the committee “could not come to a consensus in recommending the County accept new property owner sponsored Community Plans or refrain from processing any more until the General Plan update process is complete or new policy direction has been identified” … because new general plan policies “may negatively impact the policy and environmental work (sic) performed on property owner sponsored proposals.”

Given the tremendous impact to infrastructure and natural resources already caused by the rapid, UC Merced-induced growth and housing-bubble speculation in the county, the only thing the county should be thinking about complying with are state laws and guidelines governing general plans. Tiering more development off an admittedly moribund general plan for the three years is not reputable, responsible and quite possibly an illegal planning practice.

Knowing the incoherent state of its existing general plan and the number of development projects already in the permitting process, the county should have already stopped the application process. The county cannot accurately assess and analyze the impacts to infrastructure and resources of the current projects in the pipeline, because its general plan is so badly out of date that it no longer reflects the real growth issues and impacts. Now, to give permission for the next three years to a special constituency to proceed “at their own risk” is irresponsible and legally dubious.

The county Planning Department has been and is now incapable of providing coherent guidance to development and protecting Merced County resources. For example, the county has one separate department devoted completely to UC Merced; another devoted to the redevelopment of Castle Air Force Base; a third operating out of the Public Works Department to develop the UC Campus Parkway; a fourth focused on transportation infrastructure called the Merced County Association of Governments; and a fifth, the University of California Board of Regents, which is its own, autonomous land-use authority.

Now, to add to the absurdity, the county community plans are not complete or are being legally challenged. So, to allow developers, a very special interest, to guide them, fund them and use them in lieu of a county general plan for the next three years, is nothing but a license for more unplanned, chaotic, resource-devouring development speculation.

What the impacted Merced public sees is a backroom committee inviting developers to continue to pay for three community plans, inviting developers to pay for county planning staff, and inviting Planada developers to decide agricultural land mitigation policy for the county — all while, during a period of time said to be “three years,” consultants yet to be hired by the county will presumably labor on a general plan update for whatever is left in unincorporated Merced County, while these developer-funded community plans are amended into the old, now useless general plan, amended out of all coherence beginning with the UC Merced project. To take, for example, the Planada plan, it is now being challenged in state appellate court and a Washington state-based corporation funds it. As for developers deciding agricultural land mitigation policy, this is an already established, legally dubious practice in Merced County.

The only real policy and procedure in this proposal is to accommodate special interests as usual by the usual technique of trying to confuse the public with bureaucratic babble. Not one of the topics addressed to counties and municipalities in the state’s General Plan Update Guidelines is mentioned in this banal, corrupt verbiage concerning how developers, property owners, and developer-funded community plans can rig the planning process for three or more years.

Only the most naive and “hopeful” of our newest, progressive citizens could possibly believe there are the votes on the board to resist the intent of the steering committee, county supervisors, planning commissioners and planning staff to continue general plan amendments at developers’ direction for at least the next three years.

Item 31 is a license to gut a Merced County General Plan Update before consultants on the process are even hired.

Therefore, we would ask the board of supervisors to reject each of the four options presented by county staff. In place of these alternatives, we are submitting another option: a moratorium on all new development projects during the general plan-update process, according to the accompanying document to be read into the record called Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process.

This is the only responsible leadership position the board can take after the county’s participation in the orchestration of the UC Merced red and green teams, the Williamson Act as mitigation for development scheme, the RCD-HCP, CPAC, CAPS, MCIP, MAGPI, BAP, MRZ, RCD-HCP, NCCP-HCP, PIPS, Measure M — right down to the inappropriate occupation of the third floor of the county Administration Building by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, author of several bills to gut the federal Endangered Species Act.

Finally, to restore public confidence in its leadership, the board must reject the practice of indemnification by public and private project applicants for legal expenses arising from public lawsuits against its irresponsible land-use decisions. Rejecting the corrupt practice of indemnification would give the planning departments the ability to do responsible land-use planning.
Sincerely,
Lydia M. Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
Bryant Owens- Chairman
Planada Community Development Corporation
Cc: Interested Parties
Attachments:
2-13-06 Growth Articles (below)
2006 Coalition Statement (under separate cover)

ATTACHMENT

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

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

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

We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

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

Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club

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

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

Two other groups, Central Valley Food and Farmland Coalition and Northern San Joaquin Valley Chapter of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, joined the coalition in publicly calling for a moratorium on Merced County growth until a new General Plan is completed at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
------------------------

Feb. 16, 2006:

Although the County did not honor the PRA request to inspect public documents on this project by its 10-day deadline, Castillo wrote the following letter to the Livingston city attorney itemizing the number of laws the city and Ranchwood had broken. It was posted on Badlands, Feb. 28, “Merced County challenges legality of Ranchwood Home’s Livingston sewer trunk line.”

From:
Merced County
Ruben E. Castillo
County Counsel
February 16, 2006

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

Dear Mr. Hallinan:

After reviewing the facts of the case, Castillo writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) A city or district may provide new or extended services by contract or agreement outside its jurisdictional boundaries only if it first requests and receives written approval from the commission in the affected county.

(b) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries but within its sphere of influence in anticipation of a later change of organization.

(c) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries and outside its sphere of influence to respond to an existing or impending threat to the public health or safety of the residents of the affected territory if … [certain requirements are met].
(Cal. Gov. Code Section 56133.)

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

3. The California Environmental Quality Act.

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

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

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

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

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

Second, the pipeline is not located within a public right-of-way. Instead it is located on private property, from which the City got a number of public easement dedications. The acquisition of easements after approval of the proposed project is not in keeping with the claimed exemption.
In addition, the City did not notify the County of its determination as a responsible agency. CEQA sets a standard of communication and cooperation among responsible government agencies with respect to projects.

Lastly, the City did not file a “notice of Exemption” for the pipeline project. (Pub. Res. Code Section 21108.) Although the filing of such a notice is not required by CEQA, it is the standard practice for California government agencies to do so.
According to PMC, consultant to the City, an EIR is being prepared for the City’s sewer and water master plan and this “project” is probably a part of that master plan. WE are concerned that a project has already been approved and constructed that is (or should be) a part of the larger master planning effort that is currently undergoing environmental review.

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

Section 65402 (b) of the California Government Code states:
“[A] city shall not acquire real property for any of the purposes specified in paragraph (a), nor dispose of any real property, nor construct or authorize a public building or structure, in another city or in unincorporated territory, if such other city or the county in which such unincorporated territory is situated has adopted a general plan or part thereof and such general plan or part thereof is applicable thereto, until the location, purpose and extent of such acquisition, disposition, or such public building or structure have been submitted to and reported upon by the planning agency having jurisdiction, as to conformity with said adopted general plan or part thereof.”

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

CONCLUSION

As you can see from the above, the approval of this project by the City is questionable. The project failed to comport with the City’s jurisdictional authority, the Cortese-Know Local Government Reorganization Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and general land use and planning law.
Your help is sought so that the City may take every lawful action to bring its approval of this project into compliance with these laws, including all appropriate environmental analysis. I also request that the City communicate with and cooperate with the County to make certain this project is carried out in conformance with the law.

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

Highest regards,

RUBEN E. CASTILLO
MERCED COUNTY COUNSEL

On the evening of Feb. 16, Supervisor John Pedrozo held a “town hall” meeting in Livingston. Livingston is actually represented by both Pedrozo and Supervisor Kelsey but, if the reader cares to go to the Merced County website to see how the districts are gerrymandered, he or she will discover that the pipeline runs through Pedrozo’s slice of Livingston.

Pedrozo was flanked by a panel of County officials, including Planning Director Lewis. Members of the public brought up the issue of the pipeline, particularly how Hostetler’s equipment was making access difficult to at least one farm.

Lewis stated that evening that the County had never inspected Hostetler’s pipeline. When confronted by a resident from the vicinity of the pipeline who had issues with it, he gave her two pieces of advice: file a code enforcement complaint; or hire a lawyer. Having filed several code-enforcement complaints with the County this year, some members of the public can verify that the County does not enforce codes.
-----------------------------

Feb. 21, 2006:

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

From:
Lydia Miller
President San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced CA 95341
raptorctr@bigvalley.net
(209) 723-9283, phone & fax
Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto CA 95350
Sburke5@sbcglobal.net
(209) 523-1391 phone & fax
Bryant Owens
Planada Association, Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 S. Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550
recall@mercednet.com
(209) 769-0832

To:
Merced County Board of Supervisors
Dee Tatum
Chief Administrative Officer ceo@data.co.merced.ca.us
Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development rlewis@co.merced.ca.us
Ruben Castillo
County Counsel
c/o Merced Co. Board of Supervisors dist1@co.merced.ca.us etc.
Merced County
2222 M St.
Merced CA 95340

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Sent via email
Date: Feb. 21, 2006

Dear Sirs and Mesdames:

At 5:30 p.m., Feb. 21, Ranchwood was still working on the pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant that goes south from Vinewood Road beyond Magnolia Road, apparently without any county permits or environmental review. Both the County and Livingston were notified of complaints on Feb. 6. There is no evidence of any code enforcement.

Is the County unable to enforce the numerous ordinances, policies and laws that this illegal project violates, or it is unwilling? We sincerely hope that this project is not what it looks, walks and quacks like: collusion between the County, Livingston, developers and landowners to circumvent environmental regulatory compliance.

We request a meeting with County Chief Administrative Officer Dee Tatum and department heads on this project. We understand all too well that this is the way Ranchwood does business.

We request that the County inspect the project, stop the project and/or fine the developer for proceeding with illegal construction. This is not a mere 42-inch “dry, private” pipeline trench. As you can see by the attached photos (sent under separate cover) we took Feb. 20, the trench for this pipe, which Mr. Lewis was 42 inches, the impacts are broad, to both the environment and to the public. This project crosses several paved county roads; one unpaved county road and an MID canal. There is inadequate posting for public safety as our pictures show; there is wear and tear on the county roads from heavy equipment; and the developers are storing building materials and spoils on the shoulders of county roads.

We estimate that the mounds of dirt on either side of this trench are between 10-15 feet high. Having found numerous paint balls at the foot of these mounds, it’s clear that the public is using these mounds for recreation. Given the instability of this loose, sandy dirt, this is an attractive nuisance of public health and safety concern. Who is liable in case of injury arising from this attractive nuisance? In the attached photos you will see, an ATV driven by teenager, carrying an adult with a young child in his arms.

We realize that Ranchwood is working at breakneck speed to finish. This illegal project must have the County in a desperate situation. To stop now would compromise the County and the City of Livingston. However, there are legal consequences for not stopping it. At this point, indemnification would be entirely inappropriate.

The most obvious effect from the project from a field inspection, is the cumulative impacts from residential development tying into this main sewer line from Joseph Gallo land adjoining the WWTP to Magnolia Road. This requires full review under the California Environmental Quality Act before – not after – construction of the sewer main.

There is an uncalculated amount of agricultural land being — and to be — converted to real estate development, enabled by this sewer line. This requires full CEQA review and review under the Agricultural Preserve policy of the county.

At least six wells and four 1-million gallon water tanks are proposed to provide drinking water for residential development. The impact of these new wells on the groundwater level and farmers’ wells has not even been mentioned, let alone considered. Assurances of surface water from Merced Irrigation District are – as everyone knows – useless during a drought.

Ranchwood bought an almond orchard on Robin Road facing Consolidated Farms (see photos). Ranchwood is removing orchards to create a super shoulder on Magnolia for the movement of heavy equipment and construction-material storage. It is now storing sewer pipe on this ranch, called “Hostetler Ranch, Almond Orchard, L3.” The orchard appears to have been called “Merced-Lincoln” before Ranchwood bought it.

The public would also like to know by what arrangement Ranchwood is storing heavy equipment in the Livingston Corporation Yard on Vinewood Road beside the city wastewater treatment plant.

As the County approaches its general plan-update, we urge it, incorporated cities and unincorporated towns with community plans to coordinate the planning process. The update period provides an opportunity for this sensible approach to long-term county planning and it should not be missed. Until the new county General Plan and coordinated general plans of smaller jurisdictions are completed and integrated into a coherent land-use planning policy, we call for a moratorium on any new permits for residential development.

We made a Public Records Request under state Government Code 6250 et seq. in our Feb.6, 2006 letter for all documents associated with this alleged “private pipeline” project that have been generated up to the time that the agencies should comply with the request. They have not yet complied. We would like to review these records at a time and place to be arranged, prior to any copying taking place. As provided by the Public Records Act, you have ten days to determine whether you have records subject to the Act. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this arrangement. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. Thank you for your time and courtesy.

We are attaching (under separate cover) the first set of photos of the project, bounded by Vinewood, Magnolia, and Robin and Washington roads, taken on Feb. 20, 2006. Two more sets of photos will follow. For reference, we are also attaching our letter of Feb. 6, 2006 (under separate cover).

cc:
Brandon Friesen, Mayor/Municipal Officer, City of Livingston Bfriesen@livingstoncity.com
John LeVan, Merced Co. LAFCO jlevan@co.merced.ca.us
Badlandsjournal.com
Interested parties
--------------------------

Feb. 27, 2006:

County Council Ruben Castillo replied to San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center et al:

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Gentlepersons:

I responded to your February 6, 2006 letter regarding the Sewer pipeline extending from the Livignston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction, by return letter of February 6, 2006 and February 17, 2006. I have received no reply to either of my letters.

In my letter of February 17, 2006, I attempted to clarify what documents if any you were asking the County of Merced to supply as it appeared that the Public Records Act in your February 6, 2006 letter was directed to the City of Livingston only. Again, I have received no reply.

Despite the fact that you have no responded to either of my letter and have failed to clarify what records, if any, you are searching for from the County, I have worked with the various County departments to make a diligent search of any and all records the County has in its possession that could possibly relate to the above-referenced matter and have located two documents, which are likely to be responsive to your request, both of which I have enclosed with this letter, to wit:

1) A revenue sharing agreement between the County of Merced and the City of Livingston; and
2) A copy of the agreement between the City of Livingston and Ranchwood Homes.

These constitute all of the Public Records in the possession of the County which are responsive to your request …
--------------------

Feb. 28, 2006:

Another visit to the site of the pipeline showed that Ranchwood had filled the pipeline and, although construction equipment was still parked along the path of the trench, it appeared the job was completed.
-------------------------

March 13, 2006:

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and Protect Our Water wrote the Franklin County Sewer District concerning another Ranchwood project:
Board of Directors
Franklin County Sewer District
2115 N. Drake Ave.
Merced CA 95348
(209)723-1353
Fax (209)723-1433
Email FCWD1@sbcglobal.net Sent Via: Email and Fax

March 13, 2006

Dear Directors;

Under California Government Code Sections 6250 et seq., we are filing a Public Records Act request to inspect all Franklin County Sewer District files pertaining to the construction of settling ponds by developer Greg Hostetler or Ranchwood Homes.

We would like to review these records at a time and place to be arranged, prior to any copying taking place. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this arrangement. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. Thank you for your time and courtesy.

We await your timely reply.

Lydia M. Miller Steve Burke

Cc:
Badlandsjournal.com
-------------------------------------

Questions for CEO Dee Tatum and staff:

Where is the evidence that the County issued a stop-work order on any Hostetler project?

What project stop-work order is Lewis referring to in his note?

What findings on what project is he referring to?

Why won’t the county or the City of Livingston comply with the requests to see public documents made twice under the California Public Records Act?

Badlandsjournal.com

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Merced County Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event

Submitted: Mar 10, 2006

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

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

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county ... everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff -- this is my opinion -- causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· Land swaps in Planada:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hatch

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Support the ESA: Call senators Feinstein and Boxer today

Submitted: Mar 09, 2006

This is a pass-along post from the national Endangered Species Coalition urging you to call your U.S. Senator today to oppose the gutting of the ESA by legislation shamefully cooked up in the two adjoining districts of representatives RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

Talk to your senators' staff today. Numbers below.

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

National Endangered Species Act Call-in Day: Thursday, March 9th

Please Call Your Senators Today!

We need your help to make sure the Senate supports the Endangered Species Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee may take action on an Endangered Species Act bill in the next few weeks. Please call your Senators today!

For over thirty years, the Endangered Species Act has been a safety net for wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction. It has been successful in preventing the extinction of the American Bald Eagle, the gray wolf, the Pacific salmon and many other species.

However, the Endangered Species Act is under threat from special interests, and the politicians they give money to. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would significantly weaken protections for endangered species and habitat. It is now up to the U.S. Senate to save the Endangered Species Act!

It is critically important that your Senators hear from their constituents that Americans support the Endangered Species Act. Please join the Endangered Species Coalition, other organizations and thousands of Americans across the country by calling your Senators on Thursday, March 9th. Please ask your friends, relatives and colleagues to join you in calling. It only takes about 3 minutes of your time, but the results could last a lifetime.

Thank you for your help in ensuring the Endangered Species Act continues to protect our nation’s most imperiled fish, plants and wildlife so that future generations are able to enjoy their beauty!

Sincerely,

The staff of the Endangered Species Coalition
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ACTION: On Thursday, March 9th , call your Senators in support of a strong Endangered Species Act and urge them to oppose any efforts to change the Act.

PHONE NUMBERS FOR CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATORS

Sen. Barbara Boxer: (202) 224-3553
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (202) 224-3841
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BACKGROUND:

The House of Representatives passed a bill in September of 2005 that would significantly weaken protections for endangered species and habitat. If Representative Pombo’s bill (HR 3824) becomes law, it would eliminate habitat protection, abandon the commitment to recovering species on the brink of extinction, repeal protections against hazardous pesticides, and politicize the scientific decision-making process. In addition, it would set up an unprecedented entitlement program that would require the federal government to use taxpayers dollars to pay developers for complying with the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition against killing or injuring endangered species.

Pombo's top Democrat supporter and first co-author is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. Calls from Pombo and Cardoza districts should carry special weight. - Bill

It is now up to the Senate to save the Endangered Species Act. Senators need to stand up and support the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act is a successful law. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 99% of species given the Act’s protection are still with us today; their extinction has been prevented. In addition, the American public supports the Endangered Species Act. A poll by Decision Research illustrated that 86% of American voters support the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act is a safety net for wildlife, plants and fish that are on the brink of extinction. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the environment and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home.

For more information, visit the Endangered Species Coalition's webpage.

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Merced Wal-Mart distribution center

Submitted: Mar 08, 2006

Rev. Jesse Jackson used to describe development in rural US counties: "First you get your prison, then you get your WalMart."

In Merced, first we got UC, now we'll probably get a 1.1-million square foot Wal-Mart distribution center at the UC Merced off-ramp. This will set a new basement for county wages and Local Business is wildly enthusiastic about it. The representative of the Alia Corp. and the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, two of the three authors of a recent Sun-Star guest commentary accused "outside organizers" of obstructing the project, claimed to represent best the interests of the local community. Alia actually represents two global corporations, McDonalds and Chevron, while numerous national and international corporations have memberships in the GMCC, including Wal-Mart.

Rebecca Solnit describes how Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton, is spending some of the corporation's unpaid wages and benefits.

The Wal-Mart Biennale
By Rebecca Solnit
TomDispatch.com -- Feb. 16, 2006

It isn't that, when Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton purchased Asher B. Durand's 1849 painting Kindred Spirits last year, she got the state of Arkansas to pass legislation specifically to save her taxes -- in this case, about $3 million on a purchase price of $35 million. It isn't that the world's second richest woman and ninth richest person (according to a Forbes magazine 2005 estimate) scooped the painting out from under the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had banded together to try to keep it in a public collection when the New York Public Library decided to sell it off. It isn't that Walton will eventually stick this talisman of New England cultural life and a lot of other old American paintings in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Walton family museum she's building in Bentonville, Arkansas, the site of Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters -- after all people in the middle of the country should get to see some good art too. It might not even be, as Wal-MartWatch.com points out, that the price of the painting equals what the state of Arkansas spends every two years providing for Wal-Mart's 3,971 employees on public assistance; or that the average Wal-Mart cashier makes $7.92 an hour and, since Wal Mart likes to keep people on less than full-time schedules, works only 29 hours a week for an annual income of $11,948--so a Wal-Mart cashier would have to work a little under 3,000 years to earn the price of the painting without taking any salary out for food, housing, or other expenses (and a few hundred more years to pay the taxes, if the state legislature didn't exempt our semi-immortal worker).

The trouble lies in what the painting means and what Alice Walton and her $18 billion mean. Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways. The superb Rockefeller folk art collections in several American museums don't include paintings of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of miners in Colorado, carried out by Rockefeller goons, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles doesn't say a thing about oil. But something about Wal-Mart and Kindred Spirits is more peculiar than all the robber barons and their chapels, galleries, and collections ever were, perhaps because, more than most works of art, Durand's painting is a touchstone for a set of American ideals that Wal-Mart has been savaging.

It may be true that, in an era when oil companies regularly take out advertisements proclaiming their commitment to environmentalism, halting global warming, promoting petroleum alternatives, and conservation measures, while many of them also fund arguments against climate change's very existence, nothing is too contrary to embrace. But Kindred Spirits is older, more idealistic, and more openly at odds with this age than most hostages to multinational image-making.

Kindred Spirits portrays Durand's friend, the great American landscape painter Thomas Cole, with his friend, the poet and editor William Cullen Bryant. The two stand on a projecting rock above a cataract in the Catskills, bathed like all the trees and air around them in golden light. The painting is about friendship freely given, including a sense of friendship, even passion, for the American landscape itself. In the work of Cole, Durand, and Bryant, as in the writing of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, you can see an emerging belief that the love of nature, beauty, truth, and freedom are naturally allied, a romantic vision that still lingers as one of the most idealistic versions of what it might mean to be an American.

Cole was almost the first American painter to see the possibilities in American landscapes, to see that meaning could grow rather than lessen in a place not yet full of ruins and historical associations, and so he became an advocate for wilderness nearly half a century before California rhapsodist and eventual Sierra Club cofounder John Muir took up the calling. Bryant had gained a reputation as a poet before he became editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post and thereby a pivotal figure in the culture of the day. He defended a group of striking tailors in 1836, long before there was a union movement, and was ever after a champion of freedom and human rights, turning his newspaper into an antislavery mouthpiece and eventually becoming a founder of the Republican Party (back when that was the more progressive and less beholden of the two parties). He was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln and of the projects that resulted in New York's Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum -- of a democratic urban culture that believed in the uplifting power of nature and of free access. Maybe the mutation of the Republican Party from Bryant's to Walton's time is measure enough of American weirdness; or maybe the details matter, of what the painting is and what Wal-Mart and its heiress are.

Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the wealthy dry-goods merchant Jonathan Sturges as a gift for Bryant in commemoration of his beautiful eulogy for Cole, who died suddenly in 1848. Bryant left it to his daughter Julia, who gave it in 1904 to what became the New York Public Library. It was never a commodity exchanged between strangers until the Library, claiming financial need, put it and other works of art up for sale. So now a portrait of antislavery and wilderness advocates belongs to a woman whose profits came from degrading working conditions in the U.S. and abroad and from ravaging the North American landscape.

Maybe the problem is that the Crystal Bridges museum seems like a false front for Wal-Mart, a made-in-America handicrafted artifact of idealism for a corporation that is none of the above. The museum will, as such institutions do, attempt to associate the Wal-Mart billionaires with high culture, American history, beautifully crafted objects -- a host of ideals and pleasures a long way from what you find inside the blank, slabby box of a Wal-Mart. One of the privileges of wealth is buying yourself out of the situation you help to make, so that the wealthy, who advocate for deregulation, install water purifiers and stock up on cases of Perrier, or advocate for small government and then hire their own security forces and educators.

Walton, it seems safe to assume, lives surrounded by nicer objects, likely made under nicer conditions, than she sells the rest of us. I have always believed that museums love artists the way taxidermists love deer. Perhaps Alice Walton is, in some sense, stuffing and mounting what is best about American culture -- best and fading. Perhaps Crystal Bridges will become one of the places we can go to revisit the long history that precedes industrialization and globalization, when creation and execution were not so savagely sundered, when you might know the maker of your everyday goods, and making was a skilled and meaningful act. One of the pleasures of most visual art is exactly that linkage between mind and hand, lost elsewhere as acts of making are divided among many and broken down into multiple repetitive tasks.

Perhaps she could build us the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff Locally by Hand for People They Knew or perhaps that's what Crystal Bridges, along with the rest of such institutions, will become. Or Walton could just plan to open the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff at some more distant date, though less than half of what's in Wal-Mart, sources inform me, is still actually made here -- for now. The world's richest woman, however, seems more interested in archaic images of America than in the artisanry behind them.

Walton has already scooped up a portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale and paintings by Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper for her museum. That museum, reports say, will feature many, many nineteenth-century portraits of Native Americans -- but it would be hard to see her as a champion of the indigenous history of the Americas. The Wal-Mart that opened last November in Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, is built so close to the Aztec's Pyramid of the Sun that many consider the site desecrated. The Wal-Mart parking lot actually eradicated the site of a smaller temple. "This is the flag of conquest by global interests, the symbol of the destruction of our culture," said a local schoolteacher. Thanks to free-trade measures like NAFTA, Wal-Mart has become Mexico's biggest retailer and private-sector employer.

Imagine if Walton were more like Sturges, supporting the art of her time. Imagine if she were supporting artists who actually had something to say about Wal-Mart and America (and Mexico, and China). Imagine if, in the mode of the Venice Biennale or the Sao Paolo Biennale, there was a Wal-Mart biennale. After all, Wal-Mart is itself China's seventh-largest trading partner, ahead of Germany and Russia and Italy; if it were a nation, it would be the world's nineteenth biggest economy. If it's on the same scale as those countries, why shouldn't it have its own contemporary art shows? But what would the Wal-Mart nation and its artists look like?

Rather than the open, luminous, intelligent architecture Moshe Safde will probably bestow on Bentonville, Arkansas, imagine a shuttered Wal-Mart big box (of which there are so many, often shut down simply to stop employees from unionizing) turned into a MOCA, a museum of contemporary art, or better yet a MOCWA, a Museum of Contemporary Wal-Mart Art. Or Wal-Art. After all, Los Angeles's MOCA was originally sited in a defunct warehouse. You could set the artists free to make art entirely out of materials available at Wal-Mart, or to make art about the global politics of Wal-Mart in our time -- poverty, consumerism, sprawl, racism, gender discrimination, exploitation of undocumented workers.

Imagine a contemporary artist, maybe with Adobe Photoshop, reworking Kindred Spirits again and again. Imagine that Cole and Bryant are, this time, standing not on a rocky outcropping but in, say, one of the puzzle and art-supply aisles of a Wal-Mart somewhere in the Catskills, dazed and depressed. Or imagine instead that it's some sweatshop workers, a little hunched and hungry, on that magnificent perch amid the foliage and the golden light, invited at last into some sense of democratic community. Imagine paintings of Edward Hopper's old downtowns, boarded up because all the sad and lonely people are shopping at Wal-Mart and even having their coffee and hot dogs there. Imagine video-portraits of the people who actually make the stuff you can buy at Wal-Mart, or of the African-American truck-drivers suing the corporation for racism or of the women who are lead plaintiffs in the nation's largest class-action suit for discrimination. Against Wal-Mart, naturally.

Imagine if Alice Walton decided to follow the route of Target with architect Michael Graves and commissioned some cutting-edge contemporary art about these issues: videos and DVDs you could buy, prints for your walls, performance art in the aisles, art that maybe even her workers could afford. Imagine if Wal-Mart would acknowledge what Wal-Mart is rather than turning hallowed American art into a fig leaf to paste over naked greed and raw exploitation. But really, it's up to the rest of us to make the Museum of Wal-Mart, one way or another, in our heads, on our websites, or in our reading of everyday life everywhere.

Rebecca Solnit's Tomdispatch-generated Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities is out in a new and expanded edition. Her other recent books include A Field Guide to Getting Lost and, with Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers.

Copyright 2005 Rebecca Solnit

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Cardoza's boss taken to task

Submitted: Mar 01, 2006

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is the principle co-author of the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act, whose No. 1 rightwing Republican promoter is Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. The "D" often put after Cardoza's name stands for Democrat, which makes him the symbol of bipartisan unity and "balance" among the ESA gutters. It's obvious why Pombo is in it: it's strictly a matter of his family's real estate business. Although Cardoza's family owns and sells some land, the Shrimp Slayer is in it mainly for UC Merced and developers that would make Merced as large, chaotic, crime-filled and polluted as Fresno. Cardoza carries the local rightwing agenda so well they can't find anything wrong with him. He's exactly their kind of Democrat, a good little functionary for whoever has the money to pay for the tune.

People look at the Pomboza and wonder how any collection of communities could be dumb enough to elect such an unlovely pair to Congress. There must be something in the water. Or is it the air?

Bill Hatch
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Rep. Pombo’s bill an ‘act’ that betrays ecology of the earth
by David James Duncan

March 1, 2006

I am a lifelong fisherman. I became one as a boy out of love for salmon, and also out of love for the fact that Jesus and many of his disciples were fishermen. I feel I owe it to Peter, James and John to protect our increasingly endangered line of work.

I mention this because U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., has pushed a bill through Congress that would gut the Endangered Species Act, a globally admired law that has kept several thousand ark-loads of plants and animals---including wild salmon, sea otters, lynx, eagles, bighorn sheep, condors---from being driven to extinction. If Pombo’s bill becomes law, endangered species will lose to developers, the extinction of wild salmon will in many places be guaranteed, and the ancient trade of Peter, James and John will vanish with the salmon.

At the time I learned of the Pombo bill I was studying recent salmon and river restoration projects in the Pacific Northwest. The contrast is stunning! When even a few tax dollars are spent on restoring life instead squandering it, Americans go bananas in wonderfully altruistic ways. When Washington State was offered a federal grant of just $13 million for wild salmon restoration, the people and businesses of that state answered with over $30 million and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours of their own. Restoring even 10 yards of ruined riverbank is an arduous undertaking. In five years Washingtonians enhanced some 1,755 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. Some 200,000 native trees have been planted to cool streams and shade out invasive plants. Fiftyfour million salmon have been released into state streams. These united efforts are a labor of love that costs U.S. taxpayers nothing. Tens of thousands of the hero-hours have been logged by school children, whose sole motivation is their yearning to keep salmon alive in our world with them.
What a stick in the eyeball to turn from this to Pombo’s so-called “Endangered Species Recovery Act.” What this Act would really do is terminate America’s long-standing commitment to endangered species by removing the link between wild creatures and their habitat---as if wild animals and birds can live in a bulldozed vacuum. The Act’s veiled purpose is to force Americans to pay developers simply to obey conservation laws the rest of us gladly honor. To accomplish that end, it will prostitute by law the science that protects endangered and threatened species. Getting back to the apostle fishermen, Pombo’s Act will also betray the teachings of the Bible, which tells us that “the Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof” (Psalms) and that humans are mere “tenants” (Leviticus) placed here as “caretakers” (Genesis), to rule not as the greed-driven would have it, but “on earth as it is in heaven,” as the Father who created and blessed all forms of life would have it.

There are a few among us who still believe in “infinite exploitable resources” despite the finiteness of Earth. There are a few who still believe in the Easter Bunny. The fact remains that industrial civilization has long been engaged in a war not against foreign enemies, but against the life support systems of our world. The 21st will be the century of the Great Cease-Fire in this war, or it will be a century of the kind of environmental terror, havoc and dearth we are now repeatedly witnessing not just in foreign lands, but right here in America. The thousands of businesses recently destroyed by hurricanes, floods, wars and social chaos directly related to fossil fuel overdependence are dire proof that the planet’s life support systems and our economic activites are directly related. The emissions of my car in seemingly clean-skied Montana merge with a carbon dioxide cloud that encircles the globe, contributing to superheated oceans, storms of record-breaking force, the annihilation of commerce, the loss of biological diversity, and increased human suffering. Every nonsustainable act we commit and every shortsighted policy we sign into law now threatens to eliminate long-term business profits.

It’s hard to imagine a more shortsighted policy than Pombo’s “Endangered Species Recovery Act.” This bill is indeed an act. While sucking like a leech at the integrity of the word “recovery,” it in fact betrays endangered plants and wildlife and erodes biological, religious and economic integrity by attacking the life support systems and truth-telling that make life and commerce possible.
Please ask Senator Burns and Baucus to send Pombo’s Act back to whatever dark cave it came from.

David James Duncan is an author, fly fisher and educator. His novels include The River Why and The Brothers K. His forthcoming book is God Laughs & Plays: churchless sermons.
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Republican Pete McCloskey Talks about GOP Corruption and the Environment
By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Interview

Tuesday 28 February 2006

On February 12, I sat with Pete McCloskey at a public park in Lodi, California, to ask him a few questions about his race against the most anti-environmental congressman in history, Richard Pombo. Mc Closkey is challenging Pombo in the Republican primary, adding a lot of spice to the race, which includes three Democratic challengers as well.

Note: Parts of this interview will appear in an upcoming program on Free Speech TV: SourceCode Episode 3 - Enemies of the Environment. SourceCode teams up with TruthOut to give you the scoop on the biggest threats to preserving our country's public lands, endangered animals, and last wild spaces. Tune into Free Speech TV, Dish Network Ch. 9415, Sunday, March 5, at 9 a.m. and noon, or Monday, March 6, at 8 p.m. or 11p.m. (all times Eastern). Visit sourcecode.freespeech.org to view past shows.

Kelpie Wilson: What was your greatest accomplishment for the environment when you were in Congress in the 1960s and '70s?

Pete McCloskey: I suppose I tried to protect a few porpoises when the tuna fishermen were catching the porpoises in their nets. We tried to reduce the taking of endangered whale species, something my opponent Mr. Pombo now supports the increase of. Japanese whaling is one of the issues between me and him.

KW: What about the Endangered Species Act? What was your role in that?

McCloskey: Well, perhaps the greatest achievement, and we didn't know it at the time, was we held an Earth Day in 1970, and out of that Earth Day a lot of students got involved in saving the environment, or trying to. They listed 12 of my colleagues, the Dirty Dozen, and took out seven of them in the next election. The result was, when Congress convened in January 1971, everyone was now an environmentalist. They had seen a new force, college students, who favored the environment. Out of those next four years, we passed the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Amendments, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Estuary Protection Act, the Coastal Zone Act; all of those came through my subcommittee, Fish and Wildlife, a subcommittee which is now under Pombo's jurisdiction as chairman as the House Resources Committee.

KW: So the ESA is now 34 years old, and even environmentalists agree that some changes are needed. Pombo wrote and passed a reform bill through the House. What is in that bill?

McCloskey: If it passes in the form that Mr. Pombo got it though his committee, it would gut the ESA, and it would gut the whole scheme of protection for endangered and threatened species. Pombo announced that this was nothing new; he wrote a book in 1995 saying that he wanted to abolish the Endangered Species Act. But he didn't just change those provisions that should be changed, and I can give you a few: we would like to make them more farmer friendly; we would like to make them so that, when the government gets an application to develop endangered species land, the government comes in right at the start and says you can do this or you can't do this or you have to mitigate what you're going to do. It's been hard to get though the bureaucracy.

What Pombo wants to do is make it even tougher to get through the bureaucracy. You could use the entire budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service just to pay off developers. He's put a provision in there that a developer who is restricted by endangered species concerns should be compensated for all future loss of profit for any project he might propose to develop that land. Well, he'd bankrupt the agency with that, and I think that's his purpose. Again, it's not just to end the problems of the Act, it's to abolish it or make it ineffective.

KW: Who are the top Republicans in history who've made important contributions to conservation and environmental protection?

McCloskey: The father of Republican environmentalism is Teddy Roosevelt, who, with Gifford Pinchot, started to set aside wilderness and national forests and national parks. Teddy Roosevelt Island has become a national park in the middle of the Potomac River, right across from the Watergate Hotel. Pombo wants to sell Roosevelt Island for development for residential purposes, along with fourteen other parks, one of which is in his own district, in the town of Danville. He believes that the solution to this country's ills is to take all of the public lands and turn them into private development. Well, the beauty that we have here, half of northern California, is in public lands. If you develop it, you lose the priceless privilege of kids out there that are looking for crabs or frogs or something of that kind, growing up near flowing rivers, or swamps, or tidelands, particularly the High Sierra. He's got a bill to put 18 dams in the Immigrant Wilderness. Well if you ever backpacked up there, the idea of one more dam in the High Sierra is crazy, but that's his view, and that's his belief, and that's why I'm running against him.

KW: So what are the Republican values that you represent and how are they different from Richard Pombo's?

McCloskey: In my time, we served with noble and ethical leaders: Gerry Ford, Bob Michael, John Rhodes, men of impeccable honesty. We didn't have anybody locked up for a violation of ethics. Of course we were in the minority, nobody wanted to bribe a Republican; you bribed the Democrats in those days. We had 36 or so congressmen indicted, and all but one of them was a Democrat. But now the Republicans have had the power for the last 13 years, and I believe they've been corrupted: the arrangements between Tom DeLay, the majority leader, and Jack Abramoff. Remember, Tom DeLay jumped Pombo over six other congressmen to make him chairman of the Resources Committee.

The values that we had were, first: honesty and ethics. Second: we wanted a balanced budget; we had fiscal responsibility. Pombo and his allegedly conservative friends have spent us into the greatest deficits in history, trillions of dollars in deficits. That's no Republican value. We were environmentalists of the Teddy Roosevelt theory. We believed in separation of church and state. We believed in the independence of the Supreme Court not being subject to politicians. Now you've got Pombo introducing a bill ... he wants to give Congress the right to overrule Supreme Court decisions on constitutional issues. That's not a Republican value, that's almost radical. That would destroy the checks and balances that the Constitutional forefathers provided.

I suppose the worst value of all is that he wants to give away the public lands for development. My wife and I have spent half our lives, half our adult lives, trying to save special parts of California. I'll give you examples: the Bridgeport Valley over in Modoc County; the Bear Valley up in Calaveras County. We've managed to set those aside in conservation. Most recently, the Hearst Ranch, 82,000 acres. That preserves 15 miles of pristine beach. That's worth doing. It's worth preserving the remaining public lands of California, for your kids and my kids and grandchildren. Pombo wants to destroy all that. He really thinks development is the key to Northern California. You've seen what it's done in Southern California. A lot of us are fugitives from Southern California, trying to preserve the last of Northern California's open space wilderness.

KW: What he's trying to do is kind of like selling off family heirlooms to pay the rent.

McCloskey: I've differed strongly with the Bush administration. It's cut back all of the money for the parks and the forests. They want to put snowmobiles in Yosemite. What they want to do is roll back the environmental progress of 30 years, and it's just wrong. Pombo is their chief operative in doing that, so I'd like to take him out of the Congress and maybe restore a Republican value of the preservation of open space in wilderness. He thinks wilderness is bad because no people are allowed to go into the wilderness. Well, that's baloney, you go into the wilderness like Mohammed went to the mountain or Moses went into the desert. You get inspiration from the wilderness. It is not in this man to preserve and protect wilderness.

KW: Getting back to Republican values, what are the worst examples of Pombo's corruption?

McCloskey: His corruption: Here's a man, Jack Abramoff with his K Street Lobbying project, who has given all this money to Pombo - $54,500. Well, we say, what? Why Pombo? Why would Mr. Abramoff bestow this largess on Pombo? Why would Pombo's staff get these thousand-dollar seats to this skybox? What did he give up for that? We don't know the answer to that yet, the grand jury or the federal attorney hasn't told us, but one example is the Marianas Islands. Abramoff started in the 1990s to try to shield the Marianas Islands from US immigration and labor laws. A man named Willie Tan, who ran this sweatshop operation, brought in young women from all over China and Southeast Asia and the other islands, saying: "Come to America and sign this paper that you'll pay $5,000 for the privilege of going to America." Well, they got them to the Marianas Islands, which is a US trust territory, which can use the label "Made in America" on the clothing it manufactures. Pombo went to the Marianas in 2004, and suddenly gets nine contributions in the thousands of dollars from Marianas businessmen. Now why are they giving Pombo that money? Pombo absolutely refuses to investigate Abramoff and his connection with the Marianas, the sweatshops, the prostitution, and these girls being lured into coming there. Why won't he investigate it? That's what Congressional committees do when sweatshops or fraud are brought to your attention, and a man goes to jail for pleading guilty to bribing congressmen. You investigate that. Pombo won't. That's corruption.

KW: Anything else?

McCloskey: I'll tell you one other thing, that is corruption. When he put in this bill to amend the Endangered Species Act, he not only took out habitat protection but he put a provision in there to exempt farmers from using pesticides for five years in endangered species areas. We wonder: why would a California congressman do that? Then we see suddenly that he's funded in his travel, illegally, by a private foundation. He gets $23,000 from this foundation to travel, which you can't accept. He's a founding governor of the foundation; he can't deny he knew it was a private foundation. But this foundation, who is it funded by? The Japanese Whaling Association, the Association of Fur Traders - these are the guys that import elephant tusks or endangered parrots, and finally, Monsanto gave this foundation $115,000. Well, who benefits from the allowing of the use of pesticides? Monsanto. Whenever you find Pombo doing or not doing something, you chase it down to his contributors.

Big mines: He tried to get hundreds of thousands of acres of mining lands transferred to mining companies for development. Even the Congress couldn't accept that. They took it out of a bill he inserted it in privately. We have about 200,000 of those acres in Northern California; he was going to put it up for sale to mining companies. You follow his contributions: half of those were from big oil, big timber, big railroads, and big mining companies. I'm not going to take any PAC money. I may lose, because I won't get as much money as he does. I'd like to draw the distinction between congressmen who are on the take and whose positions reflect their largest contributors and those who don't. Here is Abramoff going to jail for bribing congressmen and Pombo. You ask him ... "Oh, he never lobbied me." Baloney.

KW: Why won't Pombo debate you?

McCloskey: I don't know that he won't debate me. He always speaks through spokesmen. The spokesman says: We don't want to debate McCloskey; he's way back in the 70s. Those values of his, about honesty and not being controlled by lobbyists, that's the seventies, and he's unworthy to debate. Well, if you're running for the Great Debating Society of United States, the United States Congress, I think you would want to debate your opponent. I always did. I served in the House 15 years and when someone ran against me, I'd say, I'll debate you every two weeks between now and Election Day. Let the public learn from hearing the debates. I won't say he's afraid to debate, but it looks that way.

KW: A final question. What are some of the ways that Pombo has been neglecting the district here, his own district?

McCloskey: There's the water quality in the San Joaquin River, the levees, and the strength of the levees in the Delta, most of all the traffic. Half of my old district seems to be moving from the Peninsula and the East Bay over here for affordable housing. The other morning, I drove out at 5:30 in the morning coming to Stockton on Route 580; cars were ten feet apart, four lanes abreast. At 5:30 in the morning there's an absolute traffic jam. He hasn't brought in any money to widen those highways. He really has not paid attention to this district. One child in six is getting asthma as a result of the air quality. He refuses to accept that global warming is an issue. He says that certainly automobile emissions are not creating greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. That's a head-in-the-sand attitude for this valley, in which traffic and air pollution are crucial issues. San Joaquin County is part of the poverty belt of California. They're below poverty level, way below the average in California. He's just voted to cut Medicaid and Medicare and Head Start programs. That's not what a congressman from this district ought to be doing.

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Interruption

Submitted: Feb 28, 2006

The Modesto version of the Denny Show sounds about the same as its Merced prototype (see article below): The congressman, local elitists and bureaucrats tell stories that comfort themselves in a setting designed to look like a meeting with the people which prevents the people from speaking directly to the great man without appearing to interrupt the steady flow of self-serving propaganda.

To interrupt:

The Valley needs to stop growing. Building should cease until people have had time to consider what this boom is doing, in which 20-30 percent of the houses are built for speculators.

We clearly need more agricultural land and natural habitat, not less. Selfishly, we need it for our health and survival – for better air and water and to do our part to stop global warming. At a higher level, natural resources have their own intrinsic values. We need to remember what we knew before we could conceive of the scale of destruction now engulfing the state: Nature has value for us if we can accept it.

Special interests and their politicians cannot accept it; slurbocracy is the result.

Politicians all repeat the lines of corporations, developers and big landowners, usually also major USDA subsidy farmers who pay what the people cannot afford to pay, the cost of political campaigns. The largest costs in campaigns are for media, principally for televisison. An equal and adequate amount of television should be made available for free to all candidates for public office in the United States, regardless of party. Media corporations work ceaselessly to keep that issue out of public consciousness, spending millions to lobby to erase the very thought of it. Politicians are afraid to liberate themselves from the domination of corporate media.

The only serious dialogue that occurs about the environment, at least in California, occurs either in court or under threat of court. Cardoza, a typical tool of the environmentally destructive faction, thinks, "There are organizations that are being funded solely by the lawsuits they file under the act … Everybody is suing. That is not governing properly."

Bipartisan window dressing in the all-Republican House of Representatives, Cardoza became the rear end of the Pomboza when he co-authored the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. He has wormed his way up in the hierarchy of Democrat sycophants in the House, lately becoming the co-chair of communications for the Blue Dog Coalition. The Blue Dogs are a group of conservative Democrats, mainly from large USDA-subsidy districts, who, being dogs, vote mainly along with their Republican masters. Now that he is the top Blue Dog barker, he doesn’t have to listen to anyone else anymore except Pombo.

For the record, however, the last time Dennis Cardoza met two of the most active members of the environmental community in his district was on the night he received word he would be made chairman of the Rules Committee in the state Assembly. The meeting occurred in Simon’s Restaurant near the state Capitol. Cardoza came over to their table, flanked by a couple of new staff, and asked if the diners were going to oppose UC Merced. On hearing that this was likely, he gave the table his rump, announcing over his shoulder, “Then we will do battle.” He has not spoken a word to these people since, nor has his staff. That’s a competent politician at work?

The Shrimp Slayer would have you believe he genuinely can’t understand why some people in his district are willing to go to court to defend environmental law and regulation. They do it because it is an authentic public right and responsibility and the last and only means for the public to protect the environment against drastic destruction and to protect the Public Trust and the legal processes of government. For example, in 1985, US Fish & Wildlife biologists discovered evidence of massive selenium poisoning in Kesterson Wildlife Refuge, in the middle of the district Cardoza now represents. The campaign by politicians, the Bureau of Reclamation, water agencies (principally Westlands Water District), and farmers to suppress the hard scientific ground-truthing was so grotesque Congress passed an act to protect whistleblowers the following year.

The Shrimp Slayer would have you believe that because UC Merced brings its enormous (if tarnished) prestige to his district and the promise of great wealth to an already wealthy faction in his district, that it is categorically exempt from state and federal environmental law and regulation. When obstacles to this legal theory developed, the Shrimp Slayer introduced legislation to change national environmental law to prove his point. His point, at this juncture, remains unproven. That’s a competent politician at work?

His contention that people are making a living off environmental suits is false, at least in his district. But it raises another question: How much money does Cardoza’s campaign receive from special interests destroying the environment, environmental law and regulation by lawsuit, legislation and intimidation?

He complained recently, allegedly on behalf of two irrigation districts in his district, about the “secrecy” surrounding the confidential negotiations in the 18-year-old lawsuit on the flow of water into the San Joaquin River below the Friant Dam. For the last 50 years, the Friant-Kern Canal has taken about 90 percent of the water creating a dead river from Fresno County to the Delta.

We notice on Cardoza’s campaign website that he is not being honored by these two irrigation districts. However, in mid-March, he will be “saluted” by Tom Birmingham, CEO of Westlands Water District, and two large, very rich Westlands’ customers, Mark Borba (cotton), and John Harris (beef, vegetables and racehorses). Westlands, under Birmingham the Litigator’s reign, is probably the most litigious water agency in the nation as well as being the largest. During the last round of negotiations on Friant, Westlands sued each party, has filed numerous suits since, and are backing the limitation of the definition of wetlands under the Clean Water Act being currently heard in the US Supreme Court.

Whenever Cardoza mentions “balance,” it is hypocrisy and corporate money talking. He thinks lawsuits are just dandy if they are on behalf of large special interests. If they are against the large special interests, the Shrimp Slayer considers them bad governing.

Was it good governing when, as chairman of the state Assembly Agriculture Committee, he sold out the Williamson Act to Merced County as “mitigation for UC Merced”? Was his Select Committee on Tire Fires good governing? The only justice the victims of the Filbin tire fire got was what they sued for. They didn’t get it from Cardoza.

Is it good governing to squat on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building during the biggest building boom in county history carefully nurturing the development of UC Merced by circumventing the legal processes of land-use land, planning and environmental law and regulation. He started his career as one of the many Mr. UC Merceds in the state Legislature cooking up schemes to “fast track” UC – induced growth in the San Joaquin Valley.

But what’s interesting about the Shrimp Slayer’s Republican, conservative, corporate ass-kissing in a district that took home $335 million in farm subsidies and much more in water subsidies between 1995-2004, is how little there is to show for it. The Bush 2007 Farm Bill proposal will hurt cotton, dairy and rice as it stands.

Or is the Bush Farm Bill proposal merely a cynical, calculated shakedown of agriculture for political contributions? Will Blue Dogs hunkering under Massa’s table get some scraps?

Farming in the Valley is sick unto death. There is a frenzied sense in it now, a feeling that no amount of production can catch up with falling commodity prices and groundwater levels, and rising real estate prices. Today, it seems largely a corporate land deal with some meanwhile crops, trees, vines or cows. In the present economy of real estate speculation bubble and developer ownership of the state’s politicians, farming has lost its future, its creativity and its grip on reality. While the farmer can't plan, the developer plants.

Developers run the political economy of the state and they own the politicians as completely as the Railroad once owned them, before the Progressive Era. This financial domination of absolutely everything by the state’s top development corporations has created a situation in which a farmer can’t be a farmer or a politician a politician, a teacher a teacher, a doctor a doctor, even a newspaper reporter a reporter, and on and on – because “Development” won’t allow any professions or vocations to exist without its corrupting paws in their pockets or over their mouths. American government from city hall to Washington is in a coma. Business is about profit, loss and risk. It tries to maximize the former and eliminate the two other factors as best it can. Buying and destroying government regulation is a logical strategy. When political representatives will no longer protect the people and their natural resources against business, it’s time to find representatives who will.

Yes, you can blame politicians for being corrupt, venal and sycophants of power. You can blame them for selling out the general public, the Public Trust and the common good for a bone under the table. Their job is to defend the government so that it can defend the people against the periodic surges of corporate power that are well known features of capitalist economies and the periodic fantasies of world domination in our diseased dynastic political class. When politicians sell the government to the corporations and the autocrats, they sell their sworn duty, the honor of the office and the Constitution upon which we rest.

End interruption.

Bill Hatch
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2-26-06
Modesto Bee
Cardoza criticizes port deal, Bush Drug plan. But environmentalists take him to task at public forum...Roger W. Hoskins
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11852249p-12584435c.html
Congressman Dennis Cardoza's traveling town meeting came to Modesto on Saturday and a round table of experts answered questions and offered a glimpse of the Central Valley's future...representatives from Caltrans, the state air quality board, Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, Great Valley Director Carol Whiteside, a farmland preservation advocate and a pharmacist. Stanley Gainer of Keyes...Why can't we ask questions?" "It's supposed to be a town hall meeting, not a town control meeting." ...environmentalists interrupted Cardoza as he explained why he was part of the move to modify the Endangered Species Act. "There are organizations that are being funded solely by the lawsuits they file under the act," Cardoza said. "Everybody is suing. That is not governing properly." Merced College professor Eric Caine was skeptical..."I don't think a reform bill led by Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) will take into consideration enough science,"... Jeanni Farri of the Farmland Working Group..."The valley is the eighth wonder of the world (with its farm production)," she said. "We dare not pave it over." Whiteside..."Affordable housing may come as close as there is to an insoluble problem"...growth in the valley also was linked to water quality...conserving potable water should be a valley priority.

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