Growth

Where do "growth" profits go?

Submitted: Jun 17, 2006

I have a dumb question I am proud of. It is so dumb it is worthy of a citizen of the new Appalachia, as the San Joaquin Valley is known in fashionable political circles. None of the smart people in charge of our Merced County growth are talking about this question, at least in public. And if you don't want to live in the shade of a speculative real estate boom, why -- for Land's sake, son, -- you can go straight back to the old Appalachia, at least as far as our fashionable political circles are concerned.

None other than the president of the University of California said UC Merced would be a high-tech and bio-tech engine for growth, and the implication behind his statement was that no community could ask for anything better than such a thing as that because growth raises all boats and brings the long-sought universal prosperity where pies fall from the sky and money grows on trees.

But, where do the profits from all this “growth” go?

Merced County is in the midst of a speculative housing boom. The local paper reports that, “Housing prices have soared to 77 percent above where they should be,” but a housing industry consultant said they should sink “about 35 percent to 40 percent over a period of three years.”

But the essence of a speculative boom is that is bust, as much a part of it as that 77-percent over value, cannot be predicted. From a speculator’s viewpoint, however, it’s a fair guess the housing prices are just about where they should be – maybe a little low, but not bad if you can flip the property before the bust.

Since most of the investment comes from the outside, would the capital and its profits (or losses) return to the outside? Where does the money go that developers paid farmers and ranchers for their land? Pretty places in the mountains and on the seashore? Farm or ranchland in some other, cheaper state? Where does the money a homeowner receives for his or her house go? If you sell your farm, ranch, or house, it seems logical to assume your money goes with you, elsewhere. What economic incentive would there be for local people who had just sold to buy agricultural land or a house in Merced County at the moment? Wouldn’t they want to go raise some other community’s real estate values? Or would they just blow it on golf, cutting horses, really expensive SUVs or trips to Thailand? Has there been any real public benefit from all this money? Has there been any thought that all this investment and profit should produce some public benefit?

It’s clear that one dumb question leads to others, even dumber.

UC Merced’s vice chancellor for money raising, John Garamendi, Jr., announces a big increase in donations to the school now that the campus is open. Does that money benefit the people of Merced? Nope. Primarily, it gratifies the prestige cravings of the donors, UC research, and UC staff after the large cut for administrative fees is taken. If donors want to benefit the educational progress of the people of Merced, isn’t the best bang for the buck still Merced College, which educates local students in practical skills and transfer credits so that they can attend universities and colleges later?

As far as the Great Merced Speculative Housing Boom is concerned, is that a genuine, huge, Perotian sucking sound we hear?

All that obstructs the glorious flow of the boom are the niceties of the land-use laws. But, if Merced County is nearly devoid of the kind of entrepreneurs who created new industries and jobsites, it is exceedingly rich in the kind of politicians and planning departments adept at getting around the niceties of the law.

To begin, everybody who is anybody in Merced County is his or her own planning department.

There are the county and the incorporated cities, which actually have legally constituted planning departments.

There is UC Merced, which had a completely separate planning department until recently. Now they have turned over development of their UC Community to Lennar Homes, a national home building and another de facto planning department.

There is the county Public Works Department that planned the Campus Parkway.

There are large projects like WalMart and the Riverside Motorsport Park, which create their own plans and count on their own political influence to drive them through the legal land-use authorities. Others in this category would include: Gallo’s Yosemite Lakes, Toronto-based Brookfield Homes, KB Home Central Valley, Inc., Florsheim Land, LLC, Crosswinds Development at Bellevue Ranch, the Gallo/Kelley Stevinson new town, and Ranchwood’s Geneva at Planada. This by no means exhausts the list.

Greg Hostetler’s Los Banos-based Ranchwood Homes is in a class by itself, the local boy who pay wages to other local boys and girls. But, nonetheless, some dumb questions about Ranchwood arise. Does Ranchwood operate on its own money? If not, where do its investor profits go? Los Banos? San Jose? San Francisco? Los Angeles? Chicago? Hong Kong? Does being the local developer mean Ranchwood should be granted dispensation from every local, state and federal environmental law and regulation and public process? Or just the laws it wants to break? Who, for example, granted dispensation to Ranchwood to disk or deep-rip several thousand acres of habitat for endangered species? Who excused Ranchwood from installing a 42-inch sewer trunk line from Livingston, entirely in county jurisdiction, without any county permits, to open a corridor for residential development from Livingston’s pathetic sewer plant all the way to Stevinson? What planning department actually authorized Ranchwood to build settling ponds that flooded this winter in Franklin-Beachwood?

There is also the special category of Fox Hills, a new town near Los Banos, one of whose developers is Steve Sloan, also chairman of the Merced County Planning Commission.

There is the Merced County Association of Governments (McAg, as some locals call it) which claims the land-use authority to act as the lead agency and planning department for an entire transportation plan for the county. Although MCAG tries, and reported having spent $420,000 on its latest multi-year campaign to get Merced County citizens to raise their sales taxes to pay for UC’s roads, it has still not added successful political campaign consulting to its resume of expanding powers. McAg’s latest transportation plan would remove 2,000 acres of Valley agricultural land. Now, what has that got to do with the county’s existing General Plan?

There is Gov, Schwarzenegger’s San Joaquin Valley Partnership (whose vice chairman is San Joaquin County’s most prominent developer), which will define what areas between Lodi and Arvin will become exempt from environmental law and regulation for the purpose of development.

Finally, there is the Great Valley Center (known to some as the Great Valley Economic Development Corporation) a non-profit corporation acting as a regional planning agency to push an eight-county council of governments to create a blueprint of those same areas to be exempted from environmental law and regulation.

All this goes on in the bureaucratic stratosphere while the legally constituted land-use authorities stall on updating their general and community plans, the legally compliant documents that include local public comment that are supposed to guide how these jurisdictions want to grow. Merced County has been so completely dominated by UC, by developers and by grifting hordes of planning and environmental consultants, that its officials no longer even see its citizens and their diminishing natural resources, much less hear public doubt. But, hey, how about that Measure A?

Isn’t the speculative housing boom in Merced County “trickle up and out” economics? It has corrupted and destroyed the land-use authority of local government, charged with balancing the impacts on existing citizens from speculative housing booms, their busts and consequences.

This growth boom creates a magnet for chain retailers, extracting more profits from the community, driving local retailers out of business, making downtown a haven for antique franchises -- all perfect according to the impeccably stupid ideology of the far right business community, dominated by developers and realtors. Who benefits when people who should not have tried to buy homes on adjustable rate mortgages cannot meet their balloon payments, meeting instead their natural predators, the foreclosure vultures? Is there anything less conducive to civic harmony than the naked hand of the real estate marketplace?

Ironically, the workers that have probably realized some benefit from the boom have been those farmworkers able to find work in construction. Personally, I would be skeptical of the ability of a tomato picker to construct a roof gable that doesn’t leak, but who cares in a real estate boom? For the rest of Generation Me, when the real estate deal bottoms out, it will be back to McJobs. While local government planners mutter about preserving land for industry to improve the jobs/housing ratio, some members of the public wonder if the owners of parcels zoned for industry are simply getting a property tax break while they hold the land for residential development.

Speculators and developers have bought thousands of acres of Merced farmland and realize a state subsidy on property tax under the Williamson Act. County supervisors only voted in the Williamson Act in 2000, 35 years after the act was established to help farmers keep their land in agricultural production. It was sold politically under the entirely bogus theory that it would be “mitigation for UC Merced,” language not appearing in the legislation nor contemplated in its intent. However, it was very popular among a select group of large landowners and land speculators, who, by 2000 could not be distinguished one from the other. The late passage of the Williamson Act in Merced County, for corrupted reasons, raises the question of what Merced farmers and ranchers might have been able to achieve with 35 years of property tax savings, had supervisors supported agriculture from the act’s inception.

Watching the founding of UC Merced led some members of the public to revise their entire theory of the American university, deciding that there are really only two divisions left: Science and Technology incubating new high-tech, bio-tech engines of growth; while all departments of what was once called Humanities have become nothing but propaganda incubators. Could a university with a beginning as destructive as UC Merced ever produce anything but weapons of mass destruction? We put our hope in Rep. RichPAC Pombo, R-Tracy and his local supporters: let those super patriots become neighbors of UC’s new level-4 biodefense laboratory. We prefer not to. There is something about proximity to Ebola that does not inspire confidence in a UC education.

After nine months of campus operation, UC Merced’s chancellor, provost, one vice chancellor, its environmental compliance officer and the dean of social sciences have fled. Why? It’s just another dumb question.

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

6-16-06
Merced Sun-Star
Planada...Chris Collins...In Brief
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326846p-13059086c.html
PLANADA
Planada board to hold meeting about development
The Planada Municipal Advisory Council will host a meeting June 29 to discuss the proposed Geneva Estates development.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Planada Community Hall at the Senior Annex Building.
For more information, call 385-7366. -- Chris Collins

Hot housing likely to cool...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326842p-13059033c.html
Housing prices have soared to 77 percent above where they should be, which means Merced is "at risk for a price correction," according to the study released earlier this week by financial services company National City and economic information company Global Insight. When prices dip, they'll probably sink about 35 percent to 40 percent over a period of three years, said DeKaser.Developers and real estate agents alike have been forced to slash prices lately.

Grand Jury scolds planners over service...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326844p-13059085c.html
A report released by the Merced County Civil Grand Jury accuses the county Planning Department of poor customer service, using faulty computer records, and refusing to carry out an order issued by the five-member Planning Commission.
UCM pledges increase fourfold...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326841p-13059087c.html
Fundraising efforts at UC Merced this year have drawn the most private support in the university's history, with total donations for the year at more than $19 million, according to university officials. Of the 612 gifts made by 462 private donors this year, the largest - at $5 million - will support the university's proposed medical school. The national corporation that made the donation will be publicly announced soon, said Garamendi. Systemwide, UC has brought in more than $1 billion a year for the past five years, according to the UC Office of the President.

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After another week of flak

Submitted: Jun 11, 2006

If for some reason, one finds oneself trying to look at things while standing somewhere in
grass roots, one of the first problems met is smoke generation. Part of learning the lay of
the land involves locating the local, regional, state and national smoke generators operating
near the grass roots one stands in. In other words, what flak, generated by whom, is smogging
local communications with propaganda for whose profit?

Public relations, as it is called, is among our newest professions. Related, and somewhat
newer, are our "environmental consulting firms," known in some circles as "bio-stitutes,"
because they sell their science for fees. If the grass roots in which one stands are
withering, there are biostitutes ready and willing to declare with scientific authority that
the withering is only in the eyes of someone who happens to be standing in grass roots in
the path of development.

One of the worst examples of smoke generation, combining science and PR, is promotion of
genetically engineered seed, crops with patented gene modifications in their seeds whose
pollen spreads the modified genes around the surrounding countryside. The GMO corporations
seem to be companies run almost entirely by their PR departments, with a few scientists in
the lab shotgunning strands of DNA with foreign genes to "see what sticks." Of course,
any farmer knows who ever asked any pesticide salesman why any pesticide worked, only to
receive the answer, "We don't know but it sure kills bugs," there is virtually no
environmental or even agricultural concern involved in the "corporate culture" of the giant
pesticide companies now producing GE seed.

If one's grass roots are in the San Joaquin Valley, the mental smog comes from a variety of
smoke generating equipment, some of it old, some of it new. Pesticide and fertilizer
companies have been promoting their ever-changing products and extracting their profits from
the Valley for decades. Farmers have come and gone, the entire scale and crop mix of Valley
agriculture has changed, but the pesticide (now GE-seed) corporations go on, immortal,
fictional persons that they are. Sometimes it takes a word from afar, even from as far as the
North Dakota wheat deal, to remind us that seed is life, corporations are just pieces of
paper. Some of the commodities -- dairy, cotton, rice, poultry, some fruits -- are old and
possess venerable smoke machines. An odd, and oddly unacknowledged aspect of our economic
system is that although the PR of its biggest winners has never failed to preach the holy
mystery of the market and competition, while doing everything they can to control their own
markets and protect their own government subsidies. The current one-party, far-rightwing
House of Representatives is a psychotic case in point. Taking big telecommunications' firms
money, they vote against enshrining in law the principle of neutrality on the Internet,
proving again the old political adage the the only truly free market in America is Congress,
where everyone is for sale. They call that being conservative and even godly when in fact it
is just religiously sanctified graft.

The grass rooter may take the privilege of remaining skeptical about the economic benefits of
market control and subsidies on certain agricultural commodities. Likewise, he may take a
skeptical position on various governmental strategies to keep land in agricultural production
rather than letting it go to the developer's blade. California's Williamson Act and
Agricultural Preserve laws, which provide a property tax subvention to farmers and ranchers,
has probably been the best law for preserving agriculture in the state -- not that it has not
and cannot be perverted by developers planting large, newly acquired parcels in crops of
convenience (grapes and almonds are popular) waiting for the right time to build the next
subdivision. Meanwhile, of course, this business strategy add to the supply of the commodity
they are growing, lowering the price for everyone else trying to make a living growing that
commodity.

There is the additional strife among generations in farming families that works its mischief. Families get tired of the struggle to make a living with each other on farms. Selling is a good way of settling up. It's an amazing thing to the urban supporters of agriculture, but farmers do not always love their farms. Another factor is the low social status of farmers, which can be attributed more to the eyes of those who hold themselves above farmers than to farmers themselves, although farmers play status games among each other, too. For a number of reasons, farmers in the Valley seem more conventional than farmers on the coast, for example, although this is a more recent phenomenon than it appears. Valley history is full of stories of colorful, inventive, incredibly creative farmers. The chances are they are still out there, but for some reason, they are not as visible as they once were to the public.

In a place where rapid urban development is occurring, farm commodity groups develop forms of
thinking that would be better taken to a competent psychiatrist for examination and reflection than taken to the public as policy. The skeptical grass rooter can entertain the idea that farm commodities in the US are in a longterm crisis caused by input prices ratcheting ever upward while commodity prices continue their languid wave-like motion in the middle of the graph. Sooner or later, commodity by commodity, despite whatever help the government can and does provide, that rising line bisecting the price graph from lower right
corner to upper left corner cuts through the wave-like motion of commodity prices. Once it cuts through the surface, the gap grows over time. During price troughs farmers are forced out of the commodity; and during peak prices they pay off their mortgage and wait for another price fall. If the commodity is heavily subsidized, it only awaits a new chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture like Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, for the axe. Although Pombo has not yet been named chair of the agriculture committee, it seems that is the plan if the wind-power consultant doesn't beat him after McCloskey placed a few
bandilleras and picks in his neck in the primary.

RichPAC, the political strong arm of a San Joaquin County clan of ranch realtors, knows exactly what to do when agricultural inputs rise too far above agricultural prices: sell the land to the developer and import the fruits and vegetables from some other country. It is a popular, practical approach to any agricultural crisis, at least in California, assuming no way for agriculture to evolve out of its crisis. The farmer is caught between the prospects for his commodity and the Pombo approach. This leads to hysterical contradictions in the public utterance from farm groups, as land ownership becomes more important than agricultural production in their family budgets. HBO could do a comedy series on it.

A minor form of flak that occurs within agriculture is the condemnation of farming by organic gardeners or truck farmers. The conventional, commercial farmers get it from all sides. Yet, one of the things they say that rings true is that it is not a good idea for the United States to become food importers just to pave over good farmland for subdivisions.

Development flak is funded by a consortium of interests -- construction unions, building contractors, aggregate mining firms, engineering firms, hordes of consultants serving all development's needs, developers themselves, and the manifold branches of their financial investors. These are largely statewide, national and even international operations, and the larger ones all have flak departments or consultants, ready for a fee on instant notice to flood a promising real estate market in the midst of a speculative housing boom with
flak-to-order for the issue at hand (Measure A in Merced County, for example).

It is when we get to the propaganda of large landowners that the smoke generator is hard to see from the grass roots. However, keeping with a skeptical view, it is possible that the landowning interest is so entrenched in local government it virtually needs no lobby or propaganda, at least to persuade the land-use authorities. The Merced County Board of Supervisors, for example, seems to possess a comfortable quorum of ranch and farm owners whose properties are not far from the path of urban growth, and the chairman of the county Planning Commission is one of the largest land-owning developers on the west side of the county. Some might consider this connection to sizeable tracts of private property -- in view of the de facto pro-growth policies of the board -- to represent what used to be called in a more democratic era "a conflict of interest." But we don't live in a very democratic era, there is a huge amount of money flowing into Merced County in real estate speculation, possibly even a larger amount of money is flowing out of the county, and it is definitely not polite in governing circles to mention the "C-word."

Yet, there are still other forms of flak billowing up in the Valley. There are the "public information" operations emanating out of state and federal bureaucracies like the regional boards for air and water quality and the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Air and water quality in the Valley is deteriorating. The water board recently announced a huge coup: it levied a multi-million-dollar fine against Hilmar Cheese for ruining water quality in its area. Then the water board permitted Hilmar Cheese to sink deep injection wells to pump its waste deep below the surface. The state air board is limited to stationary sources of pollution. The grass rooter looks at this regulatory truncation and speculates that it must be the result of a high level of special interest investment in the free market of politicians, because it certainly doesn't make any sense in terms of the common good or the Public Trust. The federal BOR, which controls federal water projects, has agendas utterly beyond the comprehension of mere mortal grass rooters. Why the BOR produced so much propaganda against the US Fish and Wildlife Service's discovery of the damage done to wildlife at the Kesterson preserve as the result of subterranean drainage of heavy metals from west side farms is still difficult, 20 years later, to understand from a grass roots perspective. Does the BOR just hate birds or fetuses in general? Does the BOR take a pro-cancer position? Can wildlife biology and the BOR exist on the same planet? The mild-mannered Valley grass rooter shudders to think what went on in the free market of congressmen when biological whistles started tooting at Kesterson.

There is also the flak produced by the water districts and irrigation districts, these public agencies that behave so often like private corporations and over whom there is so little real public oversight. They all have marvelously glossy brochures, pamphlets and magnificently jargoned, lengthy reports that could put a grass rooter to sleep before finishing reading the executive summary. There is no subject in California history over which there has been more political conflict (not to mention the gun battles) than water. As a result, water propaganda represents perhaps the most opaque, obscure, slithery official jargon in the state.

Reading California water policy documents conjures up the image of what happens to the San Joaquin River halfway across Fresno County, where it disappears below the sands of the river bed for 40 miles. There has always been too much missing to make sense of it. And when the San Joaquin resurfaces, it meanders northward beside two canals flowing south.

Nevertheless, it is extremely gratifying that so many earnest people, connected to the real sources of information about issues vital to our region are willing -- at other peoples' expense -- to do our thinking for us. It is so gratifying, actually, that it seems as if some people have forgotten how to think without the aid of flak, contenting themselves with parroting the last opinion to which they were exposed.

In our area there is also University of California flak, in a class by itself. First, UC appears to believe that it invented and hold patents (no doubt in fruitful win-win, public-private partnerships) on the truth. Secondly, as manager of two national laboratories of weapons of mass destruction, whatever it says and does not say
carries with it the authority of National Security. For both reasons, UC is very certain what people should know and what they should not know about UC. UC flak is the most impenetrable obstacle to comprehension in the local flak environment because it constantly changes its story depending on what it thinks simple peasants need to know. UC flak games with history -- its own or anything it thinks it ought to control -- are among the most bizarre in the flak industry. The intent appears to be to completely deny the existence of history, at least any other version of it but the current line promoted by the UC flak-du jour, for whatever
the advantage of the moment it is for UC. Perhaps in the highest echelons of UC, they actually believe history is over. Another view might be, however, that as it develops a new generation of nuclear weapons, it simply believes history is UC.

Finally, there is the effortless repetition of flak in the local press.

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12289754p-13025572c.html
6-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
Measure A: Road fixes to take longer...Leslie Albrecht

While the county can charge developers impact fees to cover the cost of new residents' impact
on roads, those fees can only pay for projects related to new growth, not maintenance
projects like reconstructing Livingston's Main Street.

... because, obviously new residents in Livingston won't be using Main Street like old
residents do?

This is an example, taken from an article that is supposed to achieve a professional journalistic "objectivity" about Measure A, which recently failed. Instead, it is mindless regurgitation of developer flak, the main purpose of which is to disguise by any and all means available the fact that development doesn't pay for itself. In the speculative real estate boom Merced County is now experiencing, two things that under no circumstances can be said by public officials or local media organs are: a boom busts; and development doesn't pay for itself.

Another example:

UC names committee to look for new chancellor of Merced Campus...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12295105p-13030135c.html June 9, 2006
UC President Robert Dynes has named a 14-member search committee that will advise him in
selecting the successor to UC Merced founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who is set
to leave the university's top seat Aug. 31. Three UC Merced faculty members, two UC Merced
students and four UC regents are among the committee members, who are scheduled to meet for
the first time at the university later this month ...

The article continues on its gagged path, announcing that a "diverse" committee including one
representative from the Merced community, will choose the new chancellor. The local representative is none other than Bob "Mr. UC Merced" Carpenter, who has never represented anything but local business -- mainly real estate -- interests from the beginning of the first committee he set up to lure UC to Merced to induce the present speculative development boom.

But, of course, the reporter doesn't know this, because she is perhaps the seventh reporter at the paper to have covered UC Merced since Carpenter was dubbed by a predecessor, "Mr. UC Merced," and her editors have forgotten or simply don't care.

The story mentions in disconnected paragraphs that the top two UC Merced administrators have both left. In fact, that is the story and the question Why? screams for some response. But, as in all stories generated by UC flak, the public gets no answer. Why is Larry Salinas, UC Merced's top flak, on a committee to select a new chancellor at all? Who really runs that campus?

How about Carpenter, Regent Fred Ruiz and Salinas for a guess? An insurance agent, a frozen food tycoon and a professional flak man. The ingenue who has inherited the Blessed Beat doesn't ask who the Hun replaced with Ruiz on the Regents and what was the nature of that insult to farmworkers.

This is a university? Or is it a shell waiting to be filled up with substances too dangerous for the Livermore Valley?

Our problem in the Valley is that the various contending creeds, expressed in propaganda, don't jibe with our history, experience or daily reality. In fact, taken as a whole, they don't produce a coherent path for the human mind. Agriculture, in particular, is currently producing masses of contradictory claims, all commanding our belief (but perhaps increasing our disbelief). In the face of these contradictions, developers and the investors behind them come with a very simple political remedy to all our confusions: sell the land. Lately, we have been seeing farmers who have become developers, along with the well-known path of developers holding land in agriculture until the next boom comes, producing distortions in the supply of the commodity they choose to farm.

But, considering local projects like the WalMart distribution center, Riverside Motorsports Park, and UC Merced, the average grass rooter must remain quite skeptical about whether they will deliver any of their proposed promises for the common good.

But flak is beautiful, anyway. It does all your thinking for you, it promises you wonderful things, and gives you an unerring guide for correct opinions -- and never mind if, taken together, it make any sense except for the people who pay for the flak. The thing to admire is that flak is so smooth and shiny next to your own lumpy, half-finished opinions riddled with unanswered questions and doubts -- those niggling things in the mind that flak deals with so effectively by completely ignoring them.

Flak is also very flattering. Flak cares about you. Flak invites you to join its side, always the "good" side, urging you to march forward to wealth, prosperity and security. Flak is so nice you forget to ask why these talented, clean, wholesome citizens would be working so hard to send you these warm, smiling messages that do your thinking for you. Flak is thought in a chauffeured limousine.

Nevertheless, we are privileged at the moment to get a glimpse at what happens with the American profession of propagandist itself falls under attack, in the following brace of articles from CommonDreams.com.

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0608-21.htm
Published on Thursday, June 8 2006 by the Center for Media and Democracy

Confronted with Disclosure Demands, Fake News Moguls Cry "Censorship!"
by Diane Farsetta

Be afraid, be very afraid! If television stations are required to abide by existing regulations and label the corporate and government propaganda they routinely pass off as "news," the First Amendment will be shredded, the freedom of the press repealed, and TV stations will collapse overnight!

At least, that's what the public relations firms that produce and distribute video news releases (VNRs) and other forms of fake news would have you believe. PR firms are banding together and launching lobbying and PR campaigns to counter the growing call for full disclosure of VNRs, the sponsored video segments frequently aired by TV newsrooms as though they were independently-produced reports.

This alarmist campaign comes as no surprise; the PR industry is like any other business interest. And if there's one thing business is good at, it's avoiding meaningful oversight ...

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0609-31.htm

Published on Friday, June 9, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Framing Versus Spin
by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson

Two weeks ago, Rockridge published The Framing of Immigration by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson, an analysis of the framing surrounding immigration used by progressives and conservatives, as well as a discussion of framings not being used, but which would reveal important truths. Late last week, the DailyKos leaked a memo by Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging strategist, advising Republicans how to talk about immigration. If you want to compare what Rockridge does with what Luntz does, this is your chance ...

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Notes on random evidence of the people's voice

Submitted: Jun 08, 2006

Several rapidly growing counties, including Merced, put sales-tax increases on their ballots in the June 6 election earmarked for transportation improvements. Costly mailers, paid for by developers, road construction companies and their unions, explained to the voters that without this "self-help" fund emanating from the county, CalTrans would not be likely to fund their projects. The voters seemed to ask why development doesn't pay for itself. (1)

In Humboldt County, voters passed a measure to prohibit outside special interest contributions to local political campaigns. Humboldt's forests are largely held by outside corporations, the largest and most belligerent being Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Co., which recently funded a recall campaign against newly elected DA Paul Gallegos, who had the gall to sue the lumber company for back taxes. Gallegos also won reelection. (2)

In Mendocino County, a supervisor who claims to be impeccably green but recently closed down a mill to develop it on the outskirts of Willits, lost to John Pinches. Hal Wagonet, the loser, narrowly defeated Pinches in the last election. Pinches' margin of victory was greatly aided by local citizens against Wagonet's development plans. (3)

In Placer County, rapidly developing Lincoln-based Supervisor Robert Wagonet beat back a challenge funded by the Tsakopoulos family, irritated that he had held to proper planning processes on a Tsakopoulos development in his district that would have featured at its center a "world-class university." (4)

Former Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Oakland, won the primary for Oakland mayor (to replace Jerry Brown). Alameda County is having to hand count its ballots so it is not yet certain whether Dellums will have to face a runoff election in November. Dellums took courageous stands on national defense spending and on the right of Palestinians to exist. (5)

Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy received 62 percent of the Republican vote in the 11th congressional district against former Rep. Pete McCloskey's 32 percent. McCloskey came, as a former Marine officer and lawyer, to defend the Constitution against the one-party, far-rightwing that has advanced Pombo so rapidly in the House. He came from out of the district as a co-author of the Endangered Species Act and several other key environmental laws, and as co-founder of Earth Day, to cause Pombo, co-author of the gut-the-ESA bill now stalled in the US Senate, as much political harm as possible. McCloskey came to do battle with Pombo as a Republican, to save the soul of the Republican Party.

It is doubtful McCloskey knew much more about the real estate manias of San Joaquin County, the basis of the power of Pombo and his extensive Pombo family clan of ranch realtors, than does Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, House Minority Leader, who backed the loser in the Democratic Party primary. The core of the district, San Joaquin County, is mysterious to Bay Area types. But Pombo needed 70 percent to scare away big Democratic Party money. If the Democrats can bring themselves to back the winner of their primary, Jerry McNerney, and run a decent voter registration drive, the could continue wounding Pombo and possibly beat him.

However, there is a sense Democratic Party treachery may be afoot in poor old San Joaquin County. The Democrats may be keeping their money for a state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, campaign for Congress in two years. Meanwhile, if one follows the Delta press, it appears that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Pelosi, both San Franciscans, are too chummy with Pombo by far. (6) (7)

Oakland Mayor and former Gov. Jerry Brown walked away with the Democratic Party nomination for attorney general. State Senator Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno, his opponent, threatens a harsh campaign on Brown's record. Fresno doesn't like it that Brown marched with Cesar Chavez and created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. So what, Chuck? (8)

With an infusion of $8.6 million from the Tsakopoulos family, state Treasurer Phil Angelides defeated state Controller Steve Westly, a Silicon Valley magnate who funded his own campaign. Angelides, a former Sacramento developer and protege of Angelo Tsakopoulos, has also been a long-time Democratic Party funder and has served as state chairman of the party. His knowledge of Wall Street, through investment of billions in state retirement funds and his involvement in the many billions in bonds by which the state now finances itself -- because development doesn't pay its way -- may be an asset for the state government. Whether that expertise translates into assets for the state's people is a mystery. We think it is unlikely that the Tsakopoulos family will not receive some benefit for their generosity in the primary campaign. (9)

Voter turnout was generally, wretchedly low. Arnold the Hun was voted in on a "progressive reform" platform, a purely nostalgic confection of the public relations profession aimed at conjuring up images of Hiram Johnson and Teddy Roosevelt in the Age of Bush, Tom the Hammer, Pombo, Cunningham and Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project. Yet, the feeling for reform is genuine in the populace, if only it can sort out the flak to get to its best shot for a little bit of it. The people might conclude that Angelides serves too many masters. At least with the Hun, you know he serves only one master.

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

Notes:

(1) Measure A: Road fixes to take longer

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12289754p-13025572c.html

By Leslie Albrecht
Last Updated: June 8, 2006, 01:58:29 AM PDT

… "It's devastating," said District 2 Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, who starred in television ads promoting Measure A, the half-cent sales tax that would have raised $446 million for transportation projects throughout the county.

The initiative fell 795 votes short of achieving the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, leaving Merced County leaders disappointed and wondering what kept voters home.

A May 19 poll showed 71 percent support for the initiative, but those numbers failed to materialize on Tuesday.

It wasn't only in Merced.

Transportation tax initiatives in Monterey, Solano and Napa counties all went down in flames. (Merced's fared the best -- Monterey's measure got 56 percent, Napa's got 52 percent, and Solano's got 45 percent.)

A few anti-tax groups campaigned against the Solano and Napa measures, but Merced's saw no organized opposition except for some fliers inserted into newspapers two days prior to the election.

"The fact that we lost millions and millions of dollars by just a few percentage points is just unbelievable," said Crookham. "It was local people who made the decisions about which projects it would fund.

"Why they didn't go to the polls and vote for what they wanted just leaves me baffled" ...
------------------------------------

(2)
http://www.eurekareporter.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?ArticleID=11963

Measure T passes with 55 percent majority
by Rebecca S. Bender, 6/7/2006

Humboldt County sent a message to out-of-area corporations looking to throw their weight around in local elections Tuesday night: Go away.

Measure T, also called the Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy, would prohibit non-local corporations from donating to county elections.

“We’re really excited!” enthused campaign co-manager Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap said close to midnight on Tuesday. “We’re very proud of our community — but we’re not surprised!”

As of press time, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, Measure T was ahead with 54.97 percent of votes stacking up in its favor and 45.03 percent against.

Absentee ballots, reported shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., fell along a similar divide, with 52 percent yes votes and 48 percent no, giving an initial indication of which way the vote might go.
------------------

(3) http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/local/ci_3909566

3rd District voters choose Pinches' Colfax leading in 5th district race
By KATIE MINTZ The Daily Journal

John Pinches and David Colfax look to be the likely 3rd and 5th District supervisors following Tuesday's election...

With 100 percent of 3rd District precincts reporting, Pinches was the unofficial winner of the 3rd District supervisor seat with 54 percent of the votes...

-------------------------
(4)
http://www.thepresstribune.com/articles/2006/06/07/news/top_stories/05weygandt.txt
Weygandt wins county supervisor race Tuesday

By: Joshua W. Bingham, Gold Country News Service
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 10:09 AM PDT

Through receiving 70 percent of the votes with 92 percent of the precincts rep-orting at 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, Robert Wey-gandt clearly was elected to his fourth term as District 2 Supervisor on the Placer County Board of Supervisors ...

Simmons estimated his team spent about $380,000 on the campaign. Weygandt, however, estimated the Simmons camp spent twice as much as his own.

Causing much media coverage was the fact the Tsakopoulos family, major developers in the area, donated $100,000 to Simmons' campaign on May 31.

Although a Placer County Elections Division spokesperson relayed that, according to late contribution reports, while $118,500 was given to Weygandt's campaign and $232,251.83 was given to Simmons' campaign between May 25 and June 2, a true receipt of how much money was spent wouldn't be available until required in a report later in the year...
------------------

(5)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/08/BAG46JAKDK1.DTL&type=politics
ELECTION 2006
Oakland Races
Dellums leads, but counting not over
Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Ron Dellums was winning Oakland's mayoral race by the slimmest of margins Wednesday, but with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted one by one, the outcome was nowhere near assured.

The former congressman, who gave what sounded a lot like a victory speech Tuesday night, had just 125 votes more than the 50 percent majority needed to win the election outright, election officials said Wednesday.
-----------------------

(6)
http://www.shns.com/shns/g_index2.cfm?action=detail&pk=POMBO-06-07-06

Primary vote shows 'vulnerability' for Pombo

By MICHAEL DOYLE
McClatchy Newspapers
07-JUN-06

WASHINGTON -- Republican Richard Pombo could pay a price for his victory in his most challenging Republican primary ever.

It all depends on what the meaning of "win" is.

The seven-term congressman from Tracy, Calif., did handily defeat his GOP challenger Tuesday, former congressman Pete McCloskey, 62 percent to 32 percent. In a general election, that would be a more than comfortable margin.

But in a primary, facing a 78-year-old challenger who only recently had taken an apartment in the Northern San Joaquin Valley congressional district, the win could be spun in several ways. Not all of the interpretations favor Pombo.

"The result shows a serious vulnerability, but no more than that," Bruce Cain, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said Wednesday. "At a minimum, it means that the Republicans will have to put money into this race, which they certainly did not want to do."

Money is certainly abundant. Helped by his perch as chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo reported raising $81,300 in just the past week. All told, Pombo has raised more than $1.7 million this election cycle.

But it wasn't just the congressional candidates pouring money into the race. In an interview Wednesday, Pombo estimated that the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, among others, spent several million dollars attacking him with ads. Some even ran on expensive San Francisco stations, a rarity for a San Joaquin Valley race ...
----------------------

(7)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/08/BAG46JAFDG1.DTL&type=politics
11TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Pombo basks in his decisive victory
30 percentage point win over McCloskey 'pretty convincing'
Greg Lucas, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Rather than proof of weakness, Rep. Richard Pombo's 62 percent- to-32 percent primary victory over former Rep. Pete McCloskey just as likely signaled how strong the seven-term Tracy Republican will run in November.

Pombo benefits from a district centered in his home San Joaquin County with 44 percent GOP registration to 37 percent Democratic and a challenger in favor of increasing taxes -- including gasoline -- whom Pombo defeated handily two years ago.

"People can dream all they want but it was a pretty convincing win," said Wayne Johnson, Pombo's chief political consultant. "We stopped our advertising two weeks out because we didn't see what the point was."

Environmental groups, angered by the House Resources Committee chairman's desire to weaken the federal Endangered Species Act, spent more than $1 million to defeat him.

They, and national Democrats, see Pombo as vulnerable, particularly if voters carry through in November on an anti-incumbent mood showing up in public opinion polls.

"He isn't motivating his base. He's got a large anti-Pombo vote within his own party," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, which spent more than $400,000 against Pombo in the Republican primary ...

"Pombo won the primary by more 30 points. And for anyone who thinks that's a blow to him you have to look at Pete McCloskey," said Bob Giroux, a former Democratic campaign consultant, now lobbyist. "McCloskey was known in the district but he's also a legend. You could put him in San Bernardino and he'd still get 32 percent" ...

But Pombo is likely to zero in on McNerney's support for increasing a number of taxes.

In a survey on the Project Vote Smart Web page, McNerney said he supports slight increases in alcohol, cigarette, inheritance and gasoline taxes. He wants large increases in capital gains and corporate taxes.

"On just about every issue, he is on the wrong side for the district," Johnson said. "I've never seen a political suicide note this long."
-------------------------

(8)
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/08/us/08brown.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Jerry Brown Wins Nomination for California Attorney General

By JESSE McKINLEY
Published: June 8, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO, June 7 — Jerry Brown, the former governor of California and the current mayor of Oakland, handily won a Democratic primary for state attorney general on Tuesday, setting up a fight with a lesser-known but well-financed Republican candidate.

Skip to next paragraph
Related
Narrow Victory by G.O.P. Signals Fall Problems (June 8, 2006)
Schwarzenegger Voices New Confidence (June 8, 2006)
This Time, Jerry Brown Wants to Be a Lawman (June 5, 2006)With all precincts reporting, Mr. Brown had received 63 percent of the vote versus 37 percent for Rocky Delgadillo, the city attorney of Los Angeles. The Republican candidate, Chuck Poochigian, a state senator from Fresno, was unopposed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Poochigian blazed through a series of interviews, promising a serious challenge to Mr. Brown, the son of a former governor, Edmund G. Brown Sr., and a three-time presidential candidate who has spent nearly four decades in politics.

"My biggest challenge is overcoming Jerry's name advantage," Mr. Poochigian, 57, said in a telephone interview from Sacramento. "But Jerry has a bigger challenge to overcome, and that's his record."

Mr. Brown embarked on his own campaign tour, barnstorming through the state on a private plane, traveling from Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, to a pair of Southern California stops in Burbank and San Diego; then north to Sacramento; and south again to Bakersfield and Los Angeles.

Along the way, Mr. Brown ventured to Mr. Poochigian's turf in the Central Valley to address police officials. At every stop, he sought to remind voters of his credentials, including his "practical hands-on experience" as a governor and a mayor.

"I've been an independent leader, not just an appendage of narrow partisan politics," said Mr. Brown, 68, before boarding a plane in San Diego. "I'm running against a man who has basically been a staffer or bureaucrat or a legislator. He's never run a darn thing."

But Mr. Brown said he expected a tough campaign, and predicted that Mr. Poochigian would use negative advertisements to try to paint him as being out of step with average Californians.

Mr. Poochigian promised to run "a truthful campaign," but he was already hammering Mr. Brown for a recent spike in crime in Oakland. "In the case of Jerry Brown, the truth is going to hurt," he said.

In the election to determine Mr. Brown's successor in Oakland, the former congressman Ron Dellums appeared to have won, although officials were still counting the ballots.

Mr. Poochigian has $3.3 million in his campaign chest, aides said, and has already raised more money than any other Republican running for statewide office except Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But he probably faces an uphill battle in a state that often votes Democratic. Mr. Brown's vote total among Democratic voters on Tuesday was just 771 shy of what Mr. Poochigian received from all Republican voters.
-------------------

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

OFF AND RUNNING
'NEW ERA': Angelides opens campaign after joining Westly in a unity pledge
Carla Marinucci, Tom Chorneau, Chronicle Political Writers

Thursday, June 8, 2006

M

Sacramento -- Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took to the skies and roads Wednesday, kicking off what's expected to be a pricey general election contest and a raucous debate over who can best protect California's future.

Angelides, on a state fly-around that began just hours after he was declared the winner of a bruising primary battle against state Controller Steve Westly for the party's gubernatorial nomination, promised to bring Democrats together in a unified campaign to lead "a new era of progressive action in California."

"I'm full of hope and optimism ... about what this state can be," said Angelides, surrounded by supporters including Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Democratic lieutenant governor nominee John Garamendi.

In a ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel near Universal Studios, Angelides and Westly declared unity, clasped hands, shared a brief hug and tried to downplay the vitriol that dominated the primary campaign.

Westly said Angelides is "committed to the environmental values" of the Democratic Party -- a statement in stark contrast to ads Westly ran during the past week accusing Angelides of playing a role in the dumping of millions of gallons of sludge into Lake Tahoe.

Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, who for months has appeared at events designed to showcase his gubernatorial policies and status, also went into full campaign mode ...

"The other side is talking about the future; we are building the future," he said. "The other side is talking about all the problems California has; we are solving the problems" ,,,

Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, the president of Sacramento-based AKT Development and daughter of developer Angelo Tsakopoulos -- who with her father donated $8.7 million toward the Democratic candidate's effort to an independent expenditure campaign -- said yesterday that her family was "absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do" and was "enormously proud" of Angelides' win.

But in an interview with The Chronicle, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said "I don't know" if the Tsakopoulos family will play another major financial donor role in the general election.

She said the primary effort was aimed at helping firefighters, police officers and teachers get out their message of support for Angelides and level the playing field for the treasurer in his battle against the wealthy, self-funded Westly.

"Phil Angelides is now the Democratic Party candidate -- and the Democratic Party is going to do what it needs in this election," she said. "The party is going to support him" ...

Just how quickly Democrats can recover from the wounds of a bloody political primary competition and turn full attention to Schwarzenegger was openly questioned by former San Francisco mayor and radio talk show host Willie Brown in the state Capitol.

"I think probably Westly will be able to do it -- I don't know about Angelides," Brown said. "He's the one who's most offended" ...
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Some things to think about on Measure A

Submitted: Jun 04, 2006

URGENT

City of Merced Measure C raised sales tax to 7.75%. With passage of Measure A, Merced City sales tax would be 8.25%. A half a cent less than the highest sales tax rates in the state. Sales taxes fall hardest on people with fixed incomes ( senior citizens and citizens with special needs) and low incomes. Merced leaders constantly repeat that Merced County is poorer that Appalachia.

So why are they asking us to pay close to the highest sales tax rate in the state?

Rankings by per capita income of California’s 58 counties whose sales tax measures are mentioned in articles below (http://www.answers.com/topic/california-locations-by-per-capita-income):

1st -- Marin ($44,962)
4th -- Santa Clara ($32,795
5th – Contra Costa ($30,615)
7th – Alameda ($26,860)
8th – Santa Cruz ($26, 396)
9th – Napa ($26,395)
21st – Solano ($21,731)
23rd – Sacramento ($21,142)
27th – Monterey ($20,265)
39th – San Joaquin ($17,365)
42nd – Stanislaus ($16,913)
49th – Fresno ($15,495)

54th – Merced ($14,257)

One proponent of Merced County’s Measure A advanced the following argument:

Small price, big benefit...Connie Warren, Merced...Measure A will increase the Merced County sales tax by one-half of one cent per dollar: This means an increase of 5 cents on a $10 purchase. You would need something in the $1000 range before the increase would impact a 16-year-olds (allowance driven) buying power. Ever heard the phrase "New York minute"?

In fact, Measure A would add 50 cents to a $10 purchase, not a nickel. If Measure A sales tax passes, the City of Merced would have a one(1%) percent tax increase within a year.

It is also important for Merced County voters to note well (from the articles below) that, once these sales tax measures are voted in, local governments come back again and again asking for extensions for them and additions to them.

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
------------------------

Mercury News
Sun., June. 4, 2006
Support health and transit; vote for ethical leadership...Mercury News Editorial
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/opinion/14739038.htm
Nothing on Tuesday's ballot is more important to Santa Clara County than approving Measure A. The additional half-cent sales tax will finance badly needed road and transit improvements as well as help preserve the county's public-health system, which under current state and federal funding trends is spiraling toward disaster.
The last Measure A sales tax in 2000 was supposed to cover the local share of the costs of bringing BART from Fremont to San Jose and improving other mass transit, including the bus system. Nobody predicted the subsequent plunge in the local, state and federal economies after Sept. 11, or the failure of the local economy to completely recover.
Money from all sources now is short, but the need for transportation improvements -- including road improvements that were not part of the last measure -- is as strong as ever. And the cost of building mass-transit systems will only increase if we don't build now for the future.
The same plunge in revenue from all sources now endangers the health and social-service safety net that the county has provided for decades.
As the pot of money shrinks, the need for county public-health programs grows greater, from threats of a pandemic to growing numbers of people needing expensive, publicly funded emergency room care because they can't afford routine doctor visits. There is no sign that the state or federal governments will remedy the health care crisis in this decade or even the next. If we want a sure safety net here, we need to pay for it.
Measure A would take our sales tax to 8.75 percent, tying Alameda County and several other cities as one of the highest in the state. But contrary to what a group of anti-BART opponents of this measure say, business leaders from large and small companies strongly support this tax. They believe that a good transportation system and a healthy community are as essential to the business climate as they are to our quality of life. And they join an amazing coalition of labor leaders, social-service and housing advocates and other community leaders urging a yes vote on Measure A.

6-3-06
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Santa Cruz seeks sales tax hike...Shanna McCord
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/June/03/local/stories/05local.htm
SANTA CRUZ — City leaders are preparing to ask voters to boost the sales tax in Santa Cruz to 8.5 percent, a quarter-cent increase. Santa Cruz would join San Francisco as one of the few cities in the state with an 8.5 percent sales tax, among the highest sales tax rates in California. First, voters must choose to make permanent the temporary quarter-cent sales tax hike known as Measure F, approved in March 2004 and set to expire in 2009. Second, voters must approve the proposed additional quarter-cent hike. Both would be on one ballot measure.

6-3-06
Merced Sun-Star
Attachments(4):
VOTE NO on Measure A Tax....Merced Sun-Star Flyer Insert
Front - flyer insert
MAKE Residential and Commercial Development Pay Its Own Way!
REJECT Welfare Subsidies for the Building Industry Association!
In 2002, the Citizens of Merced County VOTED DOWN the Measure M road-improvement tax. Merced County and its cities went right on approving thousands of new homes. This RECKLESS action is destroying hundreds of miles of our existing streets and roads because development doesn’t pay for itself.

Reverse - flyer insert
Here is a partial list of residential developments ALREADY planned for Merced County
Atwater - 1,584 units, Atwater Ranch, Florsheim Homes 21 Units, John Gallagher, 25.2 acres.
Delhi - 1,100 units, Matthews Homes, 2,000 acres.
City of Merced - 11,616 units, UC Merced Community Plan 1,560 acres; 7,800 units,
Commercial Development
Wal-Mart Distribution Center, Riverside Motorsports Park and a growing number of Strip Malls
….and the list goes on!

Letters to the Editor Merced Sun-Star B2 Saturday, June 3, 2006
Measure questions...Ronald Ashlock, Atwater...Measure A, the half-cent sales tax...leaves serious doubts...Citizen Oversight Committee only has auditing and advisory rights. To whom do we turn...if money going for private benefit. Who is the Transportation Alliance and the Alliance for Jobs? and who has spent all the money for the vigorous campaigns to pass this measure...mailers and television ads?

Leaders are the problem...Marvin R. Wallace, Merced...Measure A must be defeated...Measure A will mean a Merced sales tax of 8.25 percent on every dollar we spend to purchase merchandise. For years we've been paying premium prices for gasoline...because of the huge federal and state fuel taxes... Those funds were intended to maintain the roads... Between sales tax, income taxes, and property taxes, we're all being made poor by the tax and spend inefficient people voters have put in office.

Officials should do job...Pat Shay, Atwater...Measure A should NOT be passed. I am very concerned that local elected officials support this proposal. If they had been doing their job in the first place...Why should tax payers in Merced County pay TWICE to maintain roads?

Vote no to developers...Bobby Avilla, Stevinson...Measure A is being funded and driven by developers. Developers are pay for studies on roads, financial feasibility studies for incorporation (Delhi), pay for the costs to lead steering committees...(Stevinson). If developers can pay to make sure they can keep on paving over our farmland...let them also pay for the infrastructure...

Small price, big benefit...Connie Warren, Merced...Measure A will increase the Merced County sales tax by one-half of one cent per dollar: This means an increase of 5 cents on a $10 purchase. You would need something in the $1000 range before the increase would impact a 16-year-olds (allowance driven) buying power. Ever heard the phrase "New York minute"?

Let's look out for selves...Margaret M. Randolph, Merced...As an advocate of Measure A...it is also true that in order to compete for those funds with other counties it is necessary to step up to the plate and become a "self-help county."

6-1-06
Modesto Bee
Incomes in valley keep pace with rest of state...Ben van der Meer
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/12259133p-12997240c.html
Merced County moved up in rankings of the state's 58 counties, to 50 from 52. Snaith and Mark Hendrickson, president of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, said the University of California at Merced, being built at the time, did play a role...he expected Merced's upward trend to continue as the university, which opened in the fall, develops and a motor sports park and Wal-Mart distribution center come on-line.

Modesto Bee
Sales tax in trouble...Tim Moran...5-31-06
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/12254662p-12993245c.html
A proposed initiative for a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects in Stanislaus County appears to be in trouble, according to the Modesto Bee-California State University, Stanislaus, poll. Slightly less than half the county voters polled in mid-May said they would support the tax... planned for the November ballot, needs a two-thirds majority to pass. Many proponents are watching to see how the Merced County transportation sales tax initiative fares on Tuesday, Madison said.

Fresno Bee
A crucial consensus...Editorial...2-28-06
http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/11873741p-12645476c.html
The group planning an extension of Fresno County's Measure C has overwhelmingly signed off on a spending plan for the half-cent transportation sales tax...plan must now be approved by each of the county's 15 city councils, the transportation authority itself, and finally by the Board of Supervisors. If all goes well, it will appear on the November ballot. This is not a new tax, but the extension of the current one. The original Measure C was passed in 1986. Its 20-year run expires next year...effort to extend the measure failed in 2002... extension would run for another 20 years.

Measure C plan is approved...Russell Clemings...2-25-06
http://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/11848579p-12561582c.html
The committee working on plans for extending Measure C — Fresno County's half-cent transportation sales tax — finished its work Friday by approving a plan that devotes large shares to public transit, local street work and major highway construction...proposal goes to the Council of Fresno County Governments, which consists of mayors or other leaders from each of the county's 15 cities and the county Board of Supervisors. Then it will be submitted to each city council, the county Transportation Authority and the supervisors. A final vote on whether to place the extension plan on the November general election ballot is expected to be made by the Board of Supervisors sometime this summer.

Committee hones Measure C...Russell Clemings...1-7-06
http://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/11663200p-12391447c.html
A committee drawing up plans to renew the Measure C transportation sales tax made its last major decisions Friday. committee also voted to add to Measure C's expected proceeds by devoting 75% of Fresno County's state highway funding to Measure C projects over the next 20 years. But it left details vague on another supplement — a proposed fee that would be charged to new development for road impacts. Like the current Measure C, passed by voters in 1986, the extension would be for 20 years.

Sacramento Bee
Arena's strategy for tax assailed...Terri Hardy...5-27-06
http://www.sacbee.com/content/sports/basketball/kings/v-print/story/14261224p-15074828c.html
A strategy to finance a new Sacramento arena with a quarter-cent sales tax approved by a majority of voters would likely violate state law, according to the author of the state proposition that outlined how such levies are imposed. Any proposed sales tax to be used for a specific purpose, such as an arena, would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote -- not the simple majority that arena backers have stated, said Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on Friday. "If this (proposed) tax is intended to pay for an arena, it's a special tax requiring a two-thirds vote."

Stockton Record
Plan to put Measure K back on ballot nears OK...Erin Sherbert...4-23-06
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20060423&Category=NEWS01&ArtNo=604230313&SectionCat=&Template=printart
STOCKTON - Transportation leaders are poised to approve a plan to place a major transportation tax renewal proposal on the November ballot despite wavering support among Ripon city officials. The San Joaquin Council of Governments, the county's transportation planning agency, on Thursday will consider adopting the new spending plan for a renewed Measure K, the county's half-cent sales tax voters passed in 1990. Without renewal, it would expire in 2011. If voters renew Measure K, it will generate about $2.5 billion over 30 years. If the COG board adopts the spending plan, it will go to the cities for final approval from their councils, as well as the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. The county government and four cities - one has to be Stockton - must approve the spending plan before it can be placed on the ballot. Ripon city leaders say they believe more of the tax money should come back into local coffers instead of paying for regional transit and highway projects, said Ripon Mayor Chuck Winn, who sits on the COG board.

Supervisors ready for battle over Measure K...Greg Kane...3-28-06
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060328/NEWS01/603280321&SearchID=7324639488627
Measure K, half-cent sales tax adopted by San Joaquin County voters in 1990, is expected to generate $750million for county roads by the time it expires in 2010. The San Joaquin Council of Governments, the county's primary transportation planning agency, wants to bring a $2.5billion, 30-year extension before county voters in November.

San Francisco Chronicle
Voter's guide to the June 6 California Primary...Michael Cabanatuan, Simone Sebastian, Patrick Hoge...5-28-06
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/28/INGNKJ2GIR1.DTL&type=printable
Separate measures to raise sales taxes in Napa and Solano counties by one-half cent to fund transportation improvements in the only two Bay Area counties without such self-help taxes for streets, highways and public transit. Approval by better than two-thirds of those voting is required. Napa County -- Measure H: $537 million over 30 years...county's first attempt to pass a transportation sales tax. Solano County -- Measure H: Would raise $1.6 billion over 30 years... county's third attempt to pass a transportation sales tax.
Napa, Salano counties to vote on sales levy...Michael Cabanatuan...5-15-06

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/15/BAGS8IRUB01.DTL&type=printable
Seven of the Bay Area's nine counties have sales taxes that raise money for transportation improvements. Residents of Solano and Napa counties will face separate ballot measures on June 6. A two-thirds majority vote is needed for the measure to pass. In Santa Clara County, where voters in 1984 passed the state's first transportation sales tax, community leaders are trying a different approach. Voters are being asked to approve a half-cent sales tax to fund general county services -- affordable housing, health care and transportation, including the proposed BART extension to San Jose. A simple majority vote is needed for the measure to pass. Eighteen of the state's 58 counties have transportation sales taxes, and the residents of those counties combine to make up about 80 percent of the state's population. Measure H is Solano County's third attempt to pass a transportation sales tax. Napa County voters are being asked to approve their own Measure H, also a 30-year, half-cent sales tax measure. It is the county's second attempt to pass a transportation sales tax. Santa Clara County's Measure A also proposes a half-cent sales tax that would last 30 years...
Contra Costa Times

Measure would benefit transportation projects...Danielle Samaniego...5-31-06
http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/email/news/14705571.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Solano County is hoping the third time is the charm for a sales tax to finance transportation improvements needed throughout the region. Voters have rejected similar measures twice. Measure H would authorize the Solano Transportation Improvement Authority to impose a half-cent sales tax for 30 years to fund traffic safety improvements, projects and programs identified in the county's transportation expenditure plan.

Mercury News
Tax increase advocates raise more than foes...Barry Witt...5-26-06
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/14672741.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Measure A - The campaign for a half-cent increase in Santa Clara County's sales tax reported Thursday that it raised more than $1.3 million in 10 weeks, with much of the cash coming from the county's biggest labor union, major Silicon Valley employers and contractors working on the planned BART extension to San Jose...that needs 50 percent, plus one vote to pass, there are no restrictions on how county supervisors can use the estimated $160 million a year in new revenue the tax increase would provide. If approved, the county's sale tax rate would be 8.75 percent, tying Alameda County for highest in California.

Monterey Herald
Measure A campaign picks up big boosters...Larry Parsons...5-26-06
http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/living/community/14677167.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
The campaign to pass Measure A, the half-cent transportation sales tax on the June ballot, is picking up major financial support from expected sources -- Monterey County's agricultural, tourism and construction industries. Measure A would impose a half-cent sales tax for 14 years to raise an estimated $350 million for regional highway and transportation projects. Opponents contend the tax would be a wasteful burden on county residents for a badly conceived, pork-barrel package of highway projects and other transportation programs.Two of the biggest contributions to the Measure A campaign came from the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, $25,000, and Granite Construction Co., $20,000.

Tax measures articles...Modesto, Santa Clara, Napa, Solano

Modesto Bee
Sales tax in trouble...Tim Moran
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/12254662p-12993245c.html
A proposed initiative for a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects in Stanislaus County appears to be in trouble, according to the Modesto Bee-California State University, Stanislaus, poll. Slightly less than half the county voters polled in mid-May said they would support the tax... planned for the November ballot, needs a two-thirds majority to pass. Many proponents are watching to see how the Merced County transportation sales tax initiative fares on Tuesday, Madison said.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/31/EDGDOIJLR81.DTL&type=printable

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Invest in valley's future
-
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

MEASURE A, the half-percent sales tax increase on Santa Clara County's June 6 ballot, should get a "yes" vote from every voter with an interest in Silicon Valley's transportation and health-care systems.

Measure A is proposed as a general-fund tax because those require only a simple majority to pass. (In 1996, a similar measure eked by with just 51.8 percent of the vote.) But its backers are lobbying for the annual revenue increase of up to $180 million to fund public health and transportation improvements.

This strategy worked well in the 1996 measure -- the county Board of Supervisors respected the voters' wishes, and virtually all of the funded projects, such as the construction of a new interchange at the junction of Highways 101 and 85 in Mountain View, were completed on time and on budget.

To ensure the same results, Measure A's backers have written it in a responsible, thoughtful manner. An independent citizens' review committee will report progress to the community. There's a 30-year sunset clause. Because Measure A is the result of nearly two years of brainstorming with different interests -- business and labor groups, families and religious organizations -- it has an outstanding slate of sponsors. Its biggest supporter is the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents 200 of the valley's largest companies.

The only problem with Measure A is it will lift Santa Clara County's sales taxes to 8.75 percent. But this is the path we've set out for ourselves in California, where local governments have few places to turn for revenue.

Our roads, buses and hospitals are worth the investment. We recommend a "yes" vote on Santa Clara County's Measure A on June 6.

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URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/31/EDGDOIJLR81.DTL

VOTER'S GUIDE TO THE JUNE 6 CALIFORNIA PRIMARY
BAY AREA MEASURES
- Michael Cabanatuan, Simone Sebastian, Patrick Hoge
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/28/INGNKJ2GIR1.DTL&type=printable

Sunday, May 28, 2006

TRANSPORTATION TAXES
What's on the ballot

Separate measures to raise sales taxes in Napa and Solano counties by one-half cent to fund transportation improvements in the only two Bay Area counties without such self-help taxes for streets, highways and public transit. Approval by better than two-thirds of those voting is required.

What they would do

Napa County -- Measure H: Would raise $537 million over 30 years to pay for local street and road maintenance and improvements; widening and improvement of Highway 12 through Jamieson Canyon; a commuter trip-reduction program; express bus service from Napa to Fairfield/Suisun City; a mobility program for senior citizens; pedestrian improvements and a Napa downtown transit center. This is the county's first attempt to pass a transportation sales tax; voters approved an advisory measure in 2004.

Solano County -- Measure H: Would raise $1.6 billion over 30 years for a new interchange at the junction of Interstates 80 and 680 and Highway 12 in Cordelia; widening and improving Highway 12; new commuter rail service to and from the Bay Area and Sacramento; expanded Vallejo Baylink ferry service and expanded express bus service serving all Solano County cities. This is the county's third attempt to pass a transportation sales tax. Measures in 2002 and 2004 received a majority of votes but fell short of the two-thirds requirement.

Fiscal impact

In Napa County, would raise the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.25 percent beginning Jan 1. In Solano County, would raise sales tax from 7.375 percent to 7.875 percent beginning Oct. 1.

-- Michael Cabanatuan

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SCHOOL TAX AND BOND MEASURES
What's on the ballot

A dozen school and community college tax and bond measures in the Bay Area that would raise nearly $2 billion for school repairs, remedial education programs and classroom technology upgrades. Nine school districts in the region are seeking voter approval of parcel tax and bond measures, while three community college districts -- Peralta, Contra Costa and Foothill-De Anza -- have bond measures on the ballot. Bond measures need 55 percent approval to pass. Parcel tax measures need two-thirds.

What they would do

Oakland Unified -- Measure B: The $435 million bond measure is the largest school tax measure in the region. It is the second of three bond measures the district says it needs to fulfill a $1 billion wish list of school improvements -- the first measure, which raised $303 million, was approved in 2000. Measure B would replace hundreds of decaying portable classrooms on campuses throughout the district with permanent buildings, according to district officials. Some of the portables date back to the 1970s and are suffering from rot and water damage.

"Who knew (back then) that you were going to need phones, intercoms and computers; things that in many classrooms are now regular resources," said Jody London, co-chair of the Yes on B campaign. "We need to give these kids nicer facilities."

Tamalpais Union High School District -- Measure A: Voters in the Marin County school district will consider an $80 million bond. About $20 million would go toward rebuilding a 22-classroom building at Tamalpais High School that was closed in August because of mold. Another $15 million would go toward reconstruction of swimming pools at the district's three comprehensive high schools to give them the depth and size necessary for more athletic competitions, according to district officials.

Fiscal impact

If approved, the Oakland measure will cost residents a maximum of $48 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

The Tamalpais district measure, if approved, will cost residents a maximum of $19 per $100,000 of assessed property value. -- Simone Sebastian .

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NAPA LAND-USE COMPENSATION
What's on the ballot

Measure A would require property owners in Napa County to be compensated for property value losses resulting from new county policies. Sponsored by the Napa Valley Land Stewards Alliance, it is supported by the Napa County Republican Party. It is opposed by most of the county's political leaders, the Napa Valley Vintners Association and the Napa County Farm Bureau, police and firefighter unions, business chambers and environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Greenbelt Alliance. A majority vote is needed.

What it would do

Measure A would require that the county financially compensate property owners if their land is devalued by future county regulatory or policy decisions. County supervisors could avoid paying for impacts of their actions by getting their acts ratified by voters, or by exempting specific property owners. The measure grew out of a successful 2004 referendum campaign that nullified a county ordinance restricting development near streams. Critics said the ordinance's definition of watercourses needing protection was so expansive that it would have rendered significant portions of properties unusable.

Fiscal impact

Critics say Measure A would wreak havoc on local land-use planning and produce a tidal wave of expensive litigation that could drain funds from other county programs. Administrative and legal costs alone could be almost $3 million annually, not including awards for successful damage suits, according to an analysis that the county commissioned. Backers say such claims are overblown.

-- Patrick Hoge

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URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/28/INGNKJ2GIR1.DTL

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©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

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

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Vote No on Measure A Tax

Submitted: Jun 03, 2006

URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT

A flyer against the Merced County Transportation Tax Measure A appeared in the Merced Sun-Star Saturday morning. We have included it below and attached it to this message.

We urge you to read and share these flyers with Merced County residents before the Primary Election on Tuesday, June 6.

We should not use a sales tax to raise money for transportation funds to benefit special interests because a sales tax has an unfair impact on lower-income residents. (1) Merced County ranks fifth from the bottom of California’s 58 counties in per capita income. (2)

Sincerely,

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
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VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

MAKE Residential and Commercial Development Pay Its Own Way!

REJECT Welfare Subsidies for the Building Industry Association!

In 2002, the Citizens of Merced County VOTED DOWN the Measure M road-improvement tax. Merced County and its cities went right on approving thousands of new homes. This RECKLESS action is destroying hundreds of miles of our existing streets and roads because development doesn’t pay for itself.

VOTE NO on Measure A because it doesn’t fix the problems. It adds to them! The intent of this tax measure to improve highways 99, 152, 59, and 33, and to build the Mission Ave. Interchange, is to attract more urban growth, not to fix local potholes. The only “economic engine” helped here is the profits of developers who want you to pay for the impacts of their projects while they plant the last crop in the San Joaquin Valley- subdivisions!

VOTE NO on Measure A because the county General Plan is an absurdly outdated, non-compliant hodge-podge of amendments and conflicting goals and policies. About 20 citizens’ groups petitioned the Merced County Board of Supervisors to slow growth until county and city general plans and community plans are legally compliant. Special interests – not the public – are controlling the Merced County planning process. Use your vote to send a message to government highway funders that these special interests do not speak for us!

VOTE NO on Measure A because UC won’t pay more than $350,000 to cover the $200 million cost of it’s impacts to local streets, parks and schools. Measure A will be used to finance the Mission Ave. Interchange off Hwy 99, the Yellow Brick Beltway to UC Merced and west to Atwater. This will hasten sprawl and will eat away productive agricultural land. This UC beltway will draw business away from downtown Merced. The Mission Ave Interchange will become the location of a Wal-Mart Distribution Center, bringing in about a thousand diesel trucks a day to increase our air pollution.

VOTE NO on Measure A because it is a matching fund gimmick created by special interests. Your supervisors have used your tax dollars to create a lobbying group called the One Voice Committee that speaks for special interests, not for you. VOTE NO on Measure A to tell state and federal highway funders “One Voice” speaks for special interest, not for you.

VOTE NO on Measure A because the sand and gravel trucks supplying these proposed highway projects tear down our county roads and degrade our waterways. Spending dollars on new roadways instead of for maintenance and repair of existing county roads and city streets is a misappropriation of public funds for special interests.

VOTE NO on Measure A because you’re tired of government by and for special interests – from UC Merced to local, national and international development corporations – making land deals for their profits and your losses. An estimated 100,000 new homes are already in the planning process in Merced County.

VOTE NO on Measure A because you will have no vote on the projects it will fund. Special interests have already decided how that money will be spent and will continue to decide how it will be spent.

VOTE NO on Measure A now and you may prevent Measure Z later, as special interests continue to pile on special taxes for schools, water, sewer, electricity, parks and recreation, libraries, solid waste, emergency services, police and fire protection – like Measures S, M and H, and the Merced City Hotel Tax for a UC Olympic-size swimming pool.

PAID FOR BY MERCED COUNTY RESIDENTS AGAINST MEASURE A
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VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

Here is a partial list of residential developments ALREADY planned for Merced County
Atwater - 1,584 units, Atwater Ranch, Florsheim Homes 21 Units, John Gallagher, 25.2 acres.

Delhi - 1,100 units, Matthews Homes, 2,000 acres.

Fox Hills - 907 units, Fox Hills Estates north 337 units, Fox Hills Estates, central- 1,356 units.

Hilmar-JKB Homes, over 3,000 units.

Livingston - 1,200 units, Ranchwood Homes 420 acres. Del Valle, Gallo Ranchwood, 1,000acres,

Los Banos -, Ranchwood, 932 acres 323 units, Pinn Brothers, 34 units, Court of Fountains, 2.7 acres 95 units, Woodside Homes,

City of Merced - 11,616 units, UC Merced Community Plan 1,560 acres; 7,800 units, Ranchwood Homes, 2,355 acres, 7,000 units, Bellevue Ranch, 1,400 acres,

Vista Del Lago, 442 units, Weaver Development, 920 units, Fahrens Creek II, -1,282 units,

Fahrens Creek North, 1,093 units, Hunt Family Annexation,

Planada - 4,400 units, Village of Geneva at Planada, Hostetler 1,390 acres.

Felix Torres Migrant Megaplex 127 units, Park Street Estates, 31.8 acres, 200 units.

San Luis Creek 629 units, F & S Investments, 180 acres.

San Luis Ranch - 544 units, 237 acres.

Santa Nella - 8,250 units - Santa Nella Village west 881 units, 350 acres,

The Parkway, phase III, 146 acres - 138 units, Santa Nella Village, 40.7 acres - 544 units,

San Luis Ranch, phase II - 232 units, 312 acres - 182 acres, Arnaudo 1 &2

Stevinson - 3,500 units, Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development - 1,700 units, 3,740 acres.

Winton - 50 units, 17 acres- Gertrude Estates, Mike Raymond, 18 acres - 142 units, Winn Ranch

Commercial Development

WalMart Distribution Center, Riverside Motorsports Park and a growing number of Strip Malls

….and the list goes on!

Measure A gives the green light to all this proposed new residential and commercial development!

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

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Notes:
(1) http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072554096/student_view0/chapter_15/economic_naturalist_exercises.html
Sales taxes are regressive taxes. This means that the proportion of income paid in taxes declines as income rises. That is, people with low incomes pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than people with high incomes. But what makes a sales tax regressive?
People with low incomes tend to spend a high percentage of the income they receive. At higher income levels, people begin to save (not spend) larger parts of their income. A person is able to save (not spend) part of their income only after they are able to take care of buying necessities like food, housing, clothing, and medical care. Therefore, low-income consumers will spend most of their income while higher income consumers can begin to save more and more.
Since a sales tax falls on income that consumers spend, and low income people spend a larger part of their income, the sales tax falls more heavily on low income consumers. This makes the tax regressive ...

(2) http://www.answers.com/topic/california-locations-by-per-capita-income
Merced ranks 54th in per capita income among California's 58 counties. Only four counties have lower per capita incomes.

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

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More benefits of a UC campus in the Valley

Submitted: Jun 01, 2006

The University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which UC manages, recently announced plans to build a level-4 bio-defense lab near Tracy. Level-4 labs store the most dangerous diseases known to man -- Ebola, dengue fever, Lassa fever and "other illnesses for which there are no known cures." (1)

Opposition to UC Davis establishing a level-4 lab in Davis was so strong -- including a unanimous vote against it by the Davis City Council -- that the federal government dropped plans to fund a $59-million National Biocontainment Laboratory there in September 2003. (2) Opponents argued that such a lab would be an attraction to terrorists and that UC doesn't have adequate security to obstruct them from spreading the lethal contents of a level-4 bio-defense lab to contaminate the surrounding community.

Proximity to a UC campus, former UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey never tired of repeating, creates an ambition to go to college. It also creates a fear of UC weapons-of-mass-destruction research and mistrust of the bland assurances of adequate security.

At least one Tracy city councilwoman, Irene D. Sundberg ... "noted that the city abuts Site 300 -- as the possible location for the second lab is known -- and new housing is planned nearby.

"'The (UC Regents) should be putting it in their backyard and not mine,' she said."

Whose backyard the most dangerous, incurable illnesses in the world should be stored, is the question being argued in federal court. Livermore-based Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment has appealed their case to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, after their district court suit to stop UC from locating the facility in Livermore. CARE argues that it is madness to locate such dangerous substances in such a heavily populated area, where, in case of accident, under certain wind conditions, plumes of deadly diseases could blow all over the Bay Area, where a number of regents live.

Meanwhile, enter the sheer magic of UC flak. The closer you get to weapons of mass destruction the more magical becomes the UC flak. UC is saying:

By contrast, researchers at the second (Tracy) lab would concentrate to a greater degree on natural- or terrorist-caused agricultural diseases, but might also have the authority to work on extremely virulent human diseases such as Ebola, research on which is not permitted in the lower-ranked lab.

UC mentions hoof-and-mouth disease, for example, keeping the door open for anthrax, Ebola, etc, of course.

The situation seems to be that if UC/Lawrence Livermore wins its appeals court case, the deadliest human diseases will be stored and studied in the Bay Area, the most densely (human) populated area in northern California, while hoof-and-mouth disease, for example, will be studied in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains the densest population of cows in the nation.

This is undoubtedly why our wise leaders invited UC to establish a campus in Merced. This is the kind of enlightened, scientific guidance we dumb farmers need down here in the Valley.

My personal favorite from the selection of UC flak was:

"Lawrence Livermore has a long history of safely and securely working with biological agents," Colston said. "There are hundreds of these facilities in the United States with proven track records."

This rises to the level of fabulously fatuous UC Flak. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported in 2002:

On March 14, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) detailed their research priorities for countering bioterrorism. Their broad goals include increased funding for treatment, diagnostics, and vaccines, as well as projects in applied immunology and genomics. These include studies on how pathogens affect humans as well as the genetics of biowarfare agents. [10] The NIH also plans to construct six to 10 new biosafety level-3 and-4 facilities to supplement the seven level-4 facilities that already exist or are nearing completion. In response, several other countries have announced plans to build their own high-containment facilities. This is a recipe for disaster. (3)

Here's the political dilemma. Suppose Councilwoman Sundberg is able to rally as many opponents to the establishment of a level-4 bio-defense lab on the outskirts of her town as citizens of Davis were able to muster to oppose a level-4 lab in the middle of their town on the UC Davis campus. It would seem, in view of several factors, that UC Merced would be the next logical step for UC to take to get the millions in federal grants.

As a university, UC Merced is floundering badly. It appears, according to intermittent word from students, to be operated like a genteel prison camp. Its course offerings are meager, some would say eccentrically high-tech. Its chancellor has just quit. Its vice chancellor spent most of her career at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Its provost departed precipitously for University of Nevada Las Vegas two weeks ago. UC Merced has posted no information on its search for a new chancellor.

First, UC Merced was going to be the UC campus for all the Valley's Hispanics, who according to UC, wouldn't move away from home to go to college. Then it was going to be the environmental campus. This was the period of the Sierra Nevada Institute and the big Nature Conservancy easement program. In fact, due to vicissitudes in the careers of Gov. Gray Davis and Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, UC was unable to fully complete the railroading of all local, state and federal environmental laws and regulations the campus violates, leaving the actual location of future phases of UC Merced up in the air. Lately, more of its flak has been about being a "bio-tech engine of growth."

Labeled both a "land deal" and a "boondoggle" in the state Capitol, so far UC Merced has produced nothing but a huge speculative real estate boom in eastern Merced County, from which various regents and legislators and their families have personally benefited, along with local landowners, developers and realtors. The huge amount of investment capital in the area is flooding in from elsewhere, the same elsewhere where the big profits will go.

What if Tracy develops some backbone? Now that so many Pombo Real Estate Ranches have been filled up with Bay Area-commuter, labor-camp subdivisions, Tracy shows more signs of regarding itself as a part of the Bay Area every day. They may well argue among themselves quite eloquently and persuasively that the best place for a level-4 bio-defense lab also studying hoof-and-mouth disease should be the second largest dairy county in the United States, Merced.

Whereas San Joaquin County supervisors and Tracy City Council members may choose to dodge their patriotic duty to accept a level-4 bio-defense lab, one has no doubt about the patriotism of Merced County supervisors on anything pertaining to UC Merced's memorandum of understanding with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

That only leaves the problem of providing the amenities to attract the top-notch scientists we need to study hoof-and-mouth disease, Ebola, Lassa fever and other fatal, incurable diseases in our neighborhood. Our local leaders, speaking with One Voice, have already taken a positive step in this direction -- improving the roads to UC Merced. Next Tuesday, our leaders invite one of the poorest counties in the state to vote for a sales tax increase -- the most regressive tax possible -- to raise transportation funds.

With leadership like this, Merced should get a level-4 bio-defense lab in less than a year. And what a boon it would be to our stay-at-home minorities, our cows, and our environment!

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

(1) San Francisco Chronicle
Livermore considers bio-defense lab in Tracy. Proposed research site might store deadly human diseases...Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/28/BAGLSJ3NVT1.DTL&type=printable
The University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which are already pushing for federal court approval to store and study dangerous microbes at the Livermore lab, have expressed interest in building a second bio-defense lab near Tracy -- a lab that could experiment with even deadlier bugs...if approved and funded by the Department of Homeland Security, the 50,000-square-foot facility near Tracy could come with a ranking of "Biosafety Level Four," a status granted in the United States only to biological labs that store and analyze the world's scariest pathogens, both human and animal -- and lab officials refused to rule out the possibility that they'll study human diseases as well. The proposal for the second lab angered Tracy City Councilwoman Irene D. Sundberg, who noted that the city abuts Site 300 -- as the possible location for the second lab is known -- and new housing is planned nearby..."The (UC Regents) should be putting it in their backyard and not mine." UC officials expressed interest in the possibility of constructing the Tracy facility in a March 31 letter to Homeland Security. UC officials refused to release copies, explaining their letter is "confidential and proprietary" and releasing it might leak secrets to potential competitors for the project. "Lawrence Livermore has a long history of safely and securely working with biological agents," Colston said. "There are hundreds of these facilities in the United States with proven track records."

(2)http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/7356341p-8300182c.html
Huge blow for UCD's lab quest
University fails to win key federal funding.
By Pamela Martineau -- Bee Staff Writer
September 5, 2003

UC Davis' bid for a proposed biolab suffered a crushing setback Thursday when federal officials denied the university funding for a critical research consortium that would have operated out of its proposed facility.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services named eight institutions that will receive five-year grants to operate Regional Centers of Excellence (RCE) where scientists would study infectious diseases and defenses against bioterrorist attacks. University of California, Davis, was not among the grant recipients ... Most opponents say they fear the lab could become the target of terrorists and could spread dangerous pathogens through the community through accidents or safety breaches. Marches and silent protests also have been staged to oppose the project ... Don Mooney, an attorney for the group Stop UCD Bio Lab Now, said he has read the NIH's request for proposals for the National Biocontainment Laboratory thoroughly and he believes UC Davis' loss of the Regional Center of Excellence "should be the end" of the biolab proposal. Davis City Councilman Mike Harrington agreed ...

(3)http://www.thebulletin.org/article.php?art_ofn=so02choffnes
Bioweapons: New labs, more terror?
By Eileen Choffnes
September/October 2002 pp. 28-32 (vol. 58, no. 05) © 2002 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

(4) http://www.counterpunch.com/zeese06012006.html
June 1, 2006
Return of the Petri Dish Warriors
A New Biowar Arms Race Begins in Maryland
By KEVIN ZEESE
... Expansion of Bio-Weapons Activity Will Make America, and the World, Less Safe

Not only is this a multi-billion dollar misuse of federal funds, but it will encourage our adversaries to develop similar programs, lead to the invention of new, infectious agents and increase the risk of diversion of U.S. made bio-weapons to our adversaries. If the government really want to increase the safety of Americans the U.S. would invest in the public health system, strengthen international controls and work to remove pathogens from the face of the earth, rather than creating new ones.

The only modern bio-weapons attack was the use of anthrax in letters to Senators Daschle and Leahy at the time the Patriot Act was being considered. There is no question the anthrax used in this attack was produced in the United States and came through Ft. Detrick. The type of anthrax used was the "Ames strain," with a concentration and dispersability of one trillion spores per gram--a technology that is only capable of production by U.S. scientists...

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Some reasons that could explain the Modesto Bee endorsement of Pombo (if stupidity is not the whole answer)

Submitted: May 31, 2006

In a quiet little editorial on May 18, the Modesto Bee endorsed Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, against Republican challenger, former Rep. Pete McCloskey.

The Bee says that although Pombo is a (as yet unindicted) crook, he "has been effective in many ways."
McCloskey, is described as a quixotic, 78-year-old renegade, an author of the Endangered Species Act angry over Pombo's attacks.

Pombo's gut-the ESA bills are co-authored by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, who represents most of the Modesto Bee distribution area. A practical political consideration not mentioned by the editorialists is that without Pombo's hip pocket to ride in, Cardoza would lose influence in the one-party rightwing House. Rather than register as a Republican, Cardoza is a rightwing Democrat, of use to the House rightwing leadership as "bipartisan" cover for Pombo's radical rightwing legislation and decisions in the Resource Committee.

The Bee notes that Pombo was elevated over more senior House Republicans to the chairmanship of the Resources Committee. The Bee fails to mention that Pombo was also elevated several months ago over more senior Republicans to become vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

These important offices, once earned through years of service to the still untermed House, are now doled out by the radically rightwing Republican leadership to bolster its strengths here, fight off a challenge there and especially to reward loyalty to their radical rightwing policies. Once, even under periods of Republican control, the Congress chose its committee leaders on the basis of seniority, encyclopedic knowledge of esoteric subjects like dairy pricing, cotton and rice subsidies (especially at the beginning of a new Farm Bill debate), ability to compromise and negotiate across the aisle, and perhaps, from time to time, even a for little integrity, civility and authenticity.

In Pombo's case, the radical rightwing Republican leadership of the House, whose guidance the Modesto Bee has followed slavishly, has made Pombo as powerful as it could have in two areas -- resources policy and farm policy -- at a time when north San Joaquin Valley special interests are intent on liquidating both natural resources and agricultural land for a huge speculative housing boom.

It is a moment when the Bee editorial board should have stood for a principle. In fact, the "should" word was used:

It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

The Bee editorialists give no reason why 11th congressional district Republicans "should" choose Pombo, but here are a few I imagine might have persuaded the editorialists:

Get rid of the ESA so developers can build from the Altamont to Bakersfield without any interference from environmental law and regulation, despite the air quality disaster unfolding in the San Joaquin Valley;

Let the government buy up agricultural land at development prices;

Get rid of that 3-cent per hundredweight dairy tax proposed for the new Farm Bill;

Continue strong subsidy support for cotton and rice;

Keep the cabal of Pombo, Cardoza and Valley congressmen Radanovich, Nunes and Costa in control for continued pro-growth, anti-environmental, agribusiness-subsidy and racist policies;

Keep out McCloskey, an independent candidate with a proven record for courageous, principled political positions, who would be no tool for regional special interests;

If necessary (if Pombo is indicted before November), elect one of the Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to see who can be the biggest tool of special interests;

Neither Pombo or the Democrats would be votes to impeach the president; McCloskey has shown he has the courage to take that position if he decided it was the right thing to do.

The Modesto Bee sold its readers down the River of Stupid with this endorsement. It was cowardly, corrupt and dumb -- a combination of components in political policies we are finding more common by the day whenever our leaders speak.

Bill Hatch
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Pombo best among GOP options, but he'll have explaining to do later

Last Updated: May 18, 2006, 04:23:03 AM PDT

With his close ties to disgraced Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, contributions from clients of admitted criminal Jack Abramoff, and his off-the-wall plan to sell national parks, Richard Pombo looks to be ripe for defeat in the 11th Congressional District.
We don't think so; not this time. None of Pombo's problems will matter to the majority of Republican voters in a district that includes most of San Joaquin and parts of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. In this primary, the district's Republican voters are unlikely to vote against their seven-term representative. After all, he is the same big business-friendly, hardball playing, conservative Republican they've been electing since 1992.

As a protegé of DeLay, Pombo was elevated over more senior members to the chair of the House Resources Committee. From that position, he has forged a valley coalition that includes Democrats and Republicans. While we often disagree with the direction he has taken the committee, he has been effective in many ways.

In the primary, Republicans must choose between Pombo and 78-year-old renegade Pete McCloskey (retired Tracy rancher Tom Benigno is a nonfactor). It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

Angry over Pombo's attacks on the Endangered Species Act, of which McCloskey was co-author, Pombo's opponent moved into the district last year to give GOP voters an alternative. This has provided a loud and healthy airing of issues and a real campaign instead of the proforma exercise Pombo usually goes through to win re-election.

We admire McCloskey's quixotic quest, but we doubt that the district's Republicans are interested in an alternative. Besides, even a deeply flawed Pombo has more to offer the district than McCloskey.

It could be a different story in November. Then, a well-financed Democrat with distinctly differing views will present a clearer alternative. Then, Pombo will have to explain why 15 American Indian tribes, all with business before his House committee and some represented by Abramoff, have been so generous to him; why he has voted to protect oil companies' royalties and increase their profits; why he worked so hard to protect DeLay's power, and why he wanted to sell off pieces of15 national parks.

Republican voters should stick with Pombo — at least until they have a better alternative.

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Merced public meets a WalMart empty T-shirt

Submitted: May 26, 2006

Last week WalMart staff joined three local chambers of commerce to hold a public meeting on the company’s proposed 1.2-million square-foot distribution center, to be located at the Mission Interchange of Highway 99. The Mission Interchange will join the highway to UC Merced, via the Campus Parkway, the southern leg of a beltway road around Merced that will convey traffic to the campus and the growth it is inducing north of the city.

The WalMart distribution center will bring about 1,000 trucks in and out of Merced per day.

The meeting host was the Merced Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, flanked by the two other local chambers. The hosting chamber’s representative informed the public that speakers would be allowed no more than two minutes to speak, otherwise security guards would escort them out of the meeting room.

After the tone of antagonism to the public was set, a WalMart representative wearing a black suit and a white T-shirt began the presentation. He explained that the two-minute rule was because the meeting room in the Merced Multi-Cultural Center was only rented until 9 p.m. (WalMart didn’t get rich by renting halls for public outreach until 10 p.m., presumably).

The T-shirt began by saying that the area was zoned industrial, in “University Industrial Park,” and was a good fit for WalMart. Since WalMart didn’t get to be the largest corporation in the world by wasting money on fancy power point presentations, the T-shirt presented his on a projector and screen primitive enough for the public school system.

“There’s a good deal of misinformation out there,” T-shirt began, promising to clarify everything. He began by explaining that the City of Merced had just put out requests for proposals for consultants to do the environmental impact report required for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“We didn’t think the city should pay,” he said, so WalMart will be paying for the EIR.

One imagined WalMart’s view of who should pay for the EIR was probably shared by city staff and council members. Members of the Merced public familiar with EIRs and the consultants who write them are of the conviction – not challenged by anyone else familiar with the EIR/consultant process – that science for hire produces remarkable perversions of CEQA. The WalMart Distribution Center EIR for the Mission Ave. Interchange promises to be a tour de force of the environmental consultants’ art. We are aquiver with anticipation.

Several weeks ago, the federal government announced that the San Joaquin Valley is now the worst air pollution basin in the nation – worse than Los Angeles over a period of five years – although you cannot get a local Valley official to recognize it. It’s a tricky time for our pro-growth Valley politicians, because federal highway funds have been known to cease (in Atlanta, for example) when air quality becomes a genuine health and safety issue called “severe non-attainment.” So, Valley politicians, enthusiastic create the next San Fernando Valley, are very busy trying to gut CEQA as congressmen Pombo and Cardoza have been busy trying to gut the Endangered Species Act in Washington.

“We don’t understand CEQA in Bentonville,” the empty T-shirt explained. Of course, how could they? They don’t have any stores or other distribution centers anywhere else in California and have never, ever had to produce an EIR.

Zooming through his power point presentation, correcting public misapprehension of the project as he went, T-shirt closed by saying WalMart has nothing to hide and just wants to get “on the same page” with the public on information about the project. He expressed dismay about where people were getting their information, suggesting darkly perhaps some of it came from the Internet. He counseled the audience to verify all information they got from the Internet, presumably with WalMart, city officials, council members and environmental consultants. Nice little chats with these authorities are always more pleasant than following the paper trail, and a great deal less taxing on the mind.

A representative for a local responsible growth group noted there were five schools within a mile of the proposed distribution center. The company’s distribution centers are most typically located away from population centers, he said. Where will truckers park after they have finished their 8-hour shifts, he wondered.

WalMart knows there is an air pollution problem, T-shirt said, but WalMart is only a piece of the whole picture. The company will know how to mitigate for air pollution after the EIR is finished. He failed to deal with the issue of parked trucks, a major problem in Merced, a city with draconian anti-truck-parking ordinances.

A woman with family in New Mexico said WalMart promised good jobs for local workers where her family lived but imported workers instead. She asked if WalMart would guarantee it would hire Merced workers and the amount of the wages.

T-shirt was ready for that one, too, correcting her to say the New Mexico facility was a super center, not a distribution center.

But the woman was also ready: “If you lie about wages in a super center, why won’t you lie about wages in a distribution center,” she asked.

T-shirt replied that WalMart would import a management and training team but that after six months, they whould leave. The EIR will make these wages and jobs commitments, he said.

A young fellow, about 12 or 13 years old, told T-shirt he had asthma and wondered if WalMart would pay his medical bills for making his air quality worse.

T-shirt said WalMart could not agree to that, admitted the distribution center could have some impact to air quality, and reiterated that WalMart will not be choosing the environmental consultants. (WalMart will just pay them.)

A gentleman who said he frequently drives through the Midwest said people there blame WalMart for the decline in local businesses.

“That’s a fair question,” the empty T-shirt said. “We’ll have a philosophical difference of opinion,” he added, noting Merced’s vibrant downtown. Downtown business people one talks to, however, must be blind as bats not to see what T-shirt sees, as the area fills up with antique franchises. Even the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, co-sponsors of the event, recently moved its offices from downtown to north Merced, where strip malls are sprouting like weeds in the sun of UC Merced.

The description of the event could go on, but readers would soon become bored with the simple puppet show between The Corporation and The People. On the other hand, let us continue to give the full flavor of this moment.

Next came a man from Planada, an unincoporated community composed largely of Mexican farmworker immigrants. This local leader was somewhat disingenuous about his position in the community, announcing himself as a simple utility company employee when, actually, he was a prominent community leader who holds several appointed positions. He wanted 1 percent of his constituency to get jobs at the distribution center. “I want that center to help my people,” he said.

A neighbor of the proposed site told the T-shirt she didn’t believe either the local government (because a low-income housing project the government said would be for locals turned out to be for out-of-towners) or WalMart. What guarantee do we get from these job promises, she asked. What guarantee is there we will get only the newest, most environmentally advanced trucks? What written guarantees will we get from either WalMart or the City of Merced?

The empty T-shirt replied that all that would be handled in the EIR, adding that he himself, the T-shirt, didn’t make guarantees.

The neighbor replied that environmental review documents have exactly nothing to do with jobs and wages for local citizens. The crowd began to mutter darkly, a voice from the pro-WalMart faction told her to sit down and shut up and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce representative invoked the 2-minute rule again (and the implied security guards behind it).

The Empty T-Shirt replied after the muttering that the WalMart CEO had recently decreed that the company’s truck fleet would be green by 2007.

A local activist, also involved in trying to stop the proposed NASCAR race track on the other side of town (another boon to regional air quality), asked why Merced should welcome a corporation with a record for exploiting workers on overtime (off-the-clock work, proven in a $117-million class action award, denies meal breaks, is the object of a class action gender-discrimination suit, degrades the environment, and buys enormous quantities of goods from sweatshops in China.

“Why is this enhancing Merced?” he asked.

The empty T-shirt said those questions were philosophical. “Anyone can file a lawsuit,” he commented, adding that WalMart imported goods worth $18 billion from China but bought $137 billion worth of goods in the US. WalMart is a global company, he asserted. It sells US goods overseas. “We embrace the global economy,” he concluded.

A local teacher raised the issue of why the distribution center would be located within the city, when most are located in the middle of nowhere. T-shirt replied that the “University Industrial Zone” was zoned properly and the EIR will tell the full story. Another neighbor of the proposed distribution center noted there are three public schools within a mile of the project and a new subdivision within 500 feet of it. She also challenged WalMart representatives to describe how they would spend some portion of $12 million in Merced that they claimed WalMart had donated to worthy causes in California.

T-shirt’s fellow apologist, the WalMart Real Estate Department Suit, replied that at the very time the public was complaining about this project, WalMart was giving out two scholarships to high school graduates in Merced. He added that the company would be improving and expanding three roads near the distribution center site.

A member of the public with some experience in the trucking industry remarked that the new, “green” trucks WalMart claims it will be using by 2007 would be cycled into their fleet slowly, at a rate of 14 percent per year. He added that the distribution center would not be built if WalMart weren’t planning to build super centers throughout the Valley, including grocery stores, and that the grocery elements of those centers were gutting local economies. He also commented that the reason WalMart would be widening those nearby roads would be to provide space for idling trucks to wait all night in line for the docks.

T-shirt asserted that all WalMart trucks would be green by 2007 and the Real Estate Suit said there would be no food handled at this distribution center.

Why not, we wondered, since it’s located in the middle of one of the most prolific food-production and processing zones in the world.

A former City of Merced department director belligerently announced he was thankful to WalMart for coming to Merced and accused opponents of the project of being outsiders.

An opponent of the project said everyone speaking in opposition was from Merced. “The reason WalMart is under a microscope,” he said, “is because of a long history of exploitation of workers, including three lawsuits against you brought by your own employees.”

He added that for WalMart, full-time employment means 28 hours a week, not 40. Although the company touts its benefits, he asked what employees could afford these benefits.

T-shirt explained there would be three full-time shifts at the distribution center and that full-time employment meant a minimum of 34 hours, with 40 hours “expected.” Medical/dental benefits require only an $11/month payment, he said, while a union charges $30/month for medical/dental coverage and dues.

T-shirt left the issue of the size of the medical/dental co-payment in the WalMart plan unexplored, but claimed 60-percent of WalMart employees have medical insurance.

A member of public asked if WalMart would put in writing that it was not receiving state subsidies for locating its project in a state enterprise zone, in view of the fact Merced citizens were being asked for two tax increases.

“No, we won’t pay for your potholes!” she said. “We want high-paying jobs here and a decent quality of life!”

As T-shirt began to argue about the state enterprise zone, she said: “You should be honest!”

T-shirt continued talking about how WalMart would spend millions in fees and $400,000 for schools.

“We want it in writing,” the critic said.

At this point, an outside agitator from one of Atwater’s famed political donut shops arose to say that Merced County had the highest unemployment in the Central Valley. “The Lord is guiding WalMart to Merced! How are we going to get these empty houses filled without jobs?”

A neighbor of the project site told the panel he thought the fellow from Atwater would be a good WalMart greeter, adding that there is nothing on the CalTrans website indicating the Mission Ave. Interchange overpass would be completed by 2007, that the overpass could not be completed until Highway 99 is widened, and that there is no indication on the website of any plans for landscaping. Meanwhile, traffic at the intersections is already congested, nearby Highway 140 cannot refuse truck traffic, and he thought WalMart had agreed to repair one of the peripheral roads as a feeder route to 140.

T-shirt said WalMart could not speak for the state of California. A member of the audience thought is was likely WalMart had talked to the Merced Council of Area Governments, who does speak about regional traffic plans to CalTrans.

A Merced resident expressed issues with WalMart’s corporate culture. The state’s chambers of commerce and the governor having already shot down the last attempt to get a minimum wage hike in California, he wanted to know if WalMart had a policy about denying benefits to employees who join unions.

T-shirt replied that that was not WalMart’s practice. “We don’t currently have any unions in our stores,” he said, “but there is a lot of opportunity at WalMart.”

“Including for women and minorities?” the citizen asked.

“Yes,” T-shirt replied.

Another resident wanted to know if WalMart did background checks on job applicants and was told it did, on criminal records and drug use.

Earlier, T-shirt had said that part of WalMart’s plan to renovate its truck fleet involved using single tires to replace sets of double tires on its trailers. The resident wanted to know if this practice would cause more wear on the roads. T-shirt replied that would be discussed in the EIR.

A Merced city councilman supplied some facts: that the city’s enterprise zone expired in 2006 but the Mission Interchange project would not be completed by CalTrans by 2007.

Another resident noted that 34-hour weeks at $13.50 would not pay for any of the houses for sale in Merced. Her slogan was: “Let the hiree beware!”

A UC Merced faculty wife, leader of a group called the “Valley Hopefuls,” which she characterizes as “progressives,” and a group called “Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth (MARG),” asked WalMart for a binding contract on issues beyond the scope of the environmental impact report. She asked for a commitment to a certain percentage of profits to come back to the community and 500 of the 600 proposed jobs to go to local residents.

“We are on the same side,” T-shirt said. The location is zoned industrial; that is responsible growth, and the project will aid the parkway to UC Merced.

The faculty wife/organizer, who will leave Merced to return to Palo Alto this summer, curtsied and asked T-shirt if he would like to join MARG.

Some in the audience wondered at this point what the hopeful Valley "progressives," led by the UC faculty wife had expected would happen after UC Merced came to town. Perhaps "progressive," according to UC, means deaf, dumb, asthmatic and blind.

A resident of Planada, a Hispanic who said he was a fifth generation American citizen, said he liked this country “because it allows us to sue you.” He wanted WalMart to hire 100-percent of Planada, suggesting that surely local politicians could work out some kind of deal like that.

A sophomore from the high school near the proposed site said, “We don’t need a 1.2-million square-foot tumor.”

T-shirt again referred to the coming EIR.

The student asked if an EIR were really needed to show that the distribution center would cause a great deal of light, noise and air pollution and traffic congestion.

A local realtor commented that the project was a good one because, “We need something to get this economy going.” (And here we thought the real estate industry was going gangbusters.)

A UC Merced student complained that UC would be paying for part of the parkway and that WalMart should be paying some of it. T-shirt said WalMart would be contributing taxes.

How much, members of the audience wondered, if WalMart is not registering its trucks in California?

T-shirt concluded by saying that double-digit unemployment in Merced was a “huge benefit to WalMart.”

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The Blockhead Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley

Submitted: May 23, 2006

The newest “vision” for the San Joaquin Valley, according to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, which graced us with its prestigious presence last week in Merced, is composed of four elements:

· rapid urbanization;
· destruction of local, state and federal environmental law, regulation and resource-agency enforcement;
· demand for state and federal public funds to pay for the infrastructure caused by the on-going speculative housing boom;
· demand for a “business-friendly regulatory climate” (including maintaining low wages) to entice state, national and global corporate investment in a new “economic engine” for the San Joaquin Valley.

The last element is urged with all the sincerity and passion middle-aged bureaucrats are capable of, because, of course, the Valley is incapable of creating its own economic engine from its own enormous capital from its own state, national and global corporations, built on low wages, a large pool of unemployed, illegal immigration, as well as an enormous amount of hard work, savvy business management, superb marketing campaigns, total control of elected officials, and basic agricultural and engineering ingenuity (the best of it without academic credentials).

In short, the Valley “vision” remains what it has always been: nostalgia for the funding of federal and state water projects that made it great. When you add subsidized water to a huge alluvial fan, hard working, intelligent farmers and ranchers from Europe, the Midwest and the Middle East, low-paid seasonal workers from Oklahoma to Okinawa to Michoacan to the Punjab and elsewhere, Presto! You get the best agricultural economy in the world, which just naturally attracts every business and political force in the nation to try to suck it dry and bleed it to death, currently represented by cartels that monopolize pesticides, fertilizers and seeds, coupled with foreign trade policies that expose Valley agricultural production to competition from every lower wage agricultural economy in the world, including some, like Texas, right here at home. Chinese cotton and genetically modified organisms are perhaps the two most pressing issues, but there are others. The incredible ability of Valley farmers to produce has been the source of great prosperity (for some producers) but also a source of great economic pain. Excellent economic arguments exist that the Valley’s curse is overproduction. A corollary to that, in political circles, given the volume of production and its dependency on foreign markets, trade policies and subsidies, is that the Valley has never been adequately represented in Congress. Our 250 crops fare badly in Congress against the basic grains of the Mississippi Valley states. Our creativity, our diversity and our ingenuity are our curse. Yet, even there, in an odd, backhanded way, we benefit, for surely the dumping of Midwest corn in Mexico since NAFTA (1993) has driven hundreds of thousands of able Mexican farmers off their land and flung many of them against the border walls and fences.

The Valley agricultural economy has never been stable. The kind of dynamism and genius that created it is, frankly, not stable. It’s quirky. It’s a boom and bust deal. After a season of plenty, disaster. Within living memory the Boswell Corporation gave its workers a year’s paid vacation when Tulare Lake flooded. Although it is hard to imagine that the Miller-Lux Company would have been beneficent, it is harder to get a descendant of its employees to speak ill of it. In the years before the UFW went bankrupt economically and organizationally, how many farmers that did their own tractor work and sprayed their own crops denied their businesses were built on the backs of their Mexican workers? How many who could not abide the union hiring hall paid union wages to non-union workers? How many workers who could not abide the hiring hall worked out of some loyalty to the grower as well as the wages? The thing between workers and growers only becomes that abstract concept, Labor, when some people work in the field and others don't.

But now, there is a new “vision” for the Valley: the developer’s vision of the Valley as real estate upstream in the state’s water supply system. It’s a classic business con game, built on floating investment looking for a home, and it is growing increasingly more tenuous as the national economy sours. Perhaps this spring the assault on every natural resource, including the agricultural, in the Valley, by developers and their bureaucratic lackeys appears merely ridiculous; by next year it will be so absurd we might not get another Partnership dog-and-pony show, trotting out local and state leadership whose glamour is fading by the week, along with the Hun’s chances for reelection.

Local officials came whining before the Partnership panel, crying poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, domestic violence (Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s staffer’s arrest on that charge was politely not mentioned), immigrant populations, the unfairness of government to the San Joaquin Valley, our wretched state – so much worse than Appalachia, how the Valley groans under the impact of cruel, heartless environmental law employed by demons in human form who aim, devilishly, only to harm the half dozen or so big developers in the region and to humiliate their army of bought and sold elected officials and sycophantic staff, who engineer the destruction of law and regulation.

Fact – to refute the plaintive wanderings of the former UC Merced planning director: UC railroaded the process of state and federal environmental review. The deal was run out of Gov. Gray Davis’ office, an honest political payoff for an honest political service – delivery of the Valley vote in 1998, principally as a result of the brilliant staff work out of former Rep. Gary Condit’s office. Condit was the first California congressman to back Davis in the primary. Together they developed a Valley strategy to pick up the necessary votes to win the General Election. Condit’s price was UC Merced (in his district). Davis delivered. Straight political deal. The only problem was that it ran roughshod over a number of environmental laws, regulations and the agencies charged with enforcing them. Smith echoed with perfect pitch the huge Merced Whine about these laws, regulations and agencies. Only Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, can do it better, when he is in full cry about the Anguish of His Contributors.

How dare members of the local community sue the University of California, this glorious project with such widespread public support! Perhaps we are having a senior moment, but we cannot remember when the public was ever asked to vote on UC Merced.

Normally, we would have expected the Shrimp Slayer to have been at the Partnership event. But the vice chair of the Partnership is San Joaquin County’s largest developer, who last year threw a joint fundraiser for the Shrimp Slayer and Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, shortly before the demented duo introduced their “bipartisan” bill to gut the Endangered Species Act. Rather than face this political awkwardness among his constituency, aware of the beating Pombo is currently taking from Pete McCloskey, Cardoza is in hiding south of his district. He is probably holed up in the Fresno offices of Westlands Water District, planning how to wreck the settlement negotiations between the Friant Water Users Authority and the Natural Resources Defense Council over the thorny problem of how much water can continue to flow to eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties after a federal judge has mandated that the San Joaquin River must actually have water in it – even in the middle of Fresno County, where it hasn’t had water in it for 50 years.

The Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the current governor's pale attempt to replicate the pale Valley Economic Summit Gov. Davis tried (once), had no new ideas. State leadership and its stakeholding panel -- the chairwoman was secretary of CalTrans and some other agencies, the secretary of food and agriculture, various representatives of “the private sector,” and assorted local elected officials – had no new ideas. They had a few new words for business as usual, including “partnership” and “blueprint,” for unregulated urban growth.

That, coupled with the local "one-voice" whining for more political power and the disgusting begging for public funds, made this event a milestone in the political grotesque, perhaps the last milestone before the cliff is reached.

Or else.

Or else the agricultural economy of the Valley – universally vilified by the local whiners and the panel (except the secretary of food and agriculture, who noted that the agricultural economy is still – miraculously and most inconveniently – GROWING) – will continue to limp along, feeding us, housing us somewhat, providing the taxes that will support what education exists, and may, in some way utterly unknown to the political classes and their developer funders hungry for farms and ranches to turn into subdivisions, may just get us through the concocted economic crisis portrayed by the whining local bureaucrats to the sympathetic hearts of the state bureaucrats so deeply buried in the pockets of developers that the spare change in those pockets seems like manna from Heaven.

The plight of Valley public education is truly horrible, if only one lacks any historical perspective on the problem. Valley public education has always been what it is, moreorless the same as public education anywhere, and often better than in most places. I would still rather have a child of mine in public schools in Merced than in any major California city. There is a quality about our helplessly diverse immigrant population of children here in the Central Valley that has always inspired the best kind of teaching, the most quixotic commitments among the core of real teachers that ever make a difference, because these kids manage complex acts of peace, hope and harmony so far beyond the so-called adults who allegedly lead us.

The city will always outscore the Valley on city-designed academic tests. But, until recently at least, its entry-level jobs have provided youth and immigrants a chance to learn through work that has far out-stripped the learning possibilities of urban youth. We should build on that experience, not constantly run it down.

Yes, educational administrators are correct to ask for more money. That is their job, but only because they refuse to stand up and openly, consistently denounce state policies, encrypted in SB 50, that despoil public education in rapidly urbanizing regions like this one. Better than begging, our school administrators should openly, consistently, and simply, denounce SB 50, the filthy deal between the developers and the Legislature behind it, and the local deals between developers and politicians here and now. On behalf of our children, we should stand without equivocation, as so many Central Valley teachers stand, without equivocation, before pupils they need to teach and often do teach. Begging and wheedling before a blockheaded panel, whose formation is nothing but a political stunt, doesn't represent the tradition of Valley public education its administrators seem to have forgotten how to be proud of.

We have a good tradition of public education in the Valley. To see it on its knees, as the local superintendent presented it, was the ugliest thing about this ridiculous hearing. But that ugliness goes to the fundamental point at stake in the spring assault on Valley resources, human, agricultural and environmental: a century of unexamined pro-growth-at-any-cost state policies has impoverished us all. It is ruining our water supply and quality; it has already ruined our air quality; and it seeks with all the zeal of bought and sold politicians and their appointed staffs, to destroy our environmental law, regulation and resource agency enforcement of those laws and regulations.

This is wrong and contrary to the spirit of Valley public education and the families and neighborhoods behind it.

UC Merced was mentioned frequently as the savior of absolutely everything. Yet, other reports indicate not so many college applicants want to come to UC Merced.

A suggestion (from a comment made by the Los Banos city manager): close UC Merced. It was never anything but a boondoggle for a few land owners, financial institutions and real estate speculators anyway. Convert its facilities into a first class vocational training institute, on the model of the one in Klamath Falls, OR. Train students in the skills of manufacturing. If they can’t get jobs in the US due to continuing corrupt, off-shoring policies, they will probably be able to do well in Korea, Taiwan, Mexico or elsewhere. These skills will produce stable incomes. Perhaps, if the Valley “leadership” awakes from its dreams of quick bucks from real estate, it may even see the potential in such a course, if for no other reason because it is within the culture and tradition of the Valley – AS IT IS – to educate people in practical industries.

The core of any industrial economy and the means by which that economy transcends its last generation lies in an educated industrial workforce. Something has gone terribly wrong with the institutional culture of the University of California. Perhaps one too many win-win, public-private partnerships has erased from its institutional memory the idea that it is a "public research" institution, that its purpose is to serve the California public's higher educational needs rather than exploit the medical research opportunities provided by its being the "engine of growth" in the worst polluted air basin in the nation. The Valley doesn't want to be the UC laboratory for lung disease anymore than we want our politicians to solve air pollution by suspending air quality law to allow for more UC-stimulated urban growth.

So, we propose that, rather than UC Merced educating some class of technologists better developed at any of its other campuses, we close its campus and reopen it as the best vocational training center in the nation, producing the top machinists, tool and die makers, mold makers, auto and farm equipment engineers – in general, a class of brilliant, forward looking people who can build very complex, useful things with their hands and help California catch up with the rest of the industrialized world in building cleaner industrial processes. Sometimes, academic engineers and scientists are required in this process, but without the people who can build the new equipment, giving constant feedback in the process of invention, innovation does not occur.

I make this suggestion because it is harmonious with the genius of the Valley. This is the training that will build the next best post-harvest handling shed. Someone from this school will build a thresher that will not kill every ground-nesting bird in its path. Here, a student will be presented with the challenge of how to make local streams both habitable to wildlife and adequate to carry increasing flows and she will solve the puzzle.

Here, invention will occur because the Valley, as always, will attract devoted teachers and eager students. The Valley itself – socially, economically, environmentally – remains a huge, beautiful puzzle, an enormous challenge for people with the right kind of education, stressing the practical, hands-on solutions to concrete puzzles.

UC, lamentably, is not that institution. UC Merced was and remains a land deal. Of course, the Regents and the chancellor, could never ever admit they were taken for such a wild political railroad ride. This, too, is our genius. We have always had to be better at politics than our urban cousins and we have always risen to the challenge.

Why?

Because agriculture is always more complex than urban reality. Political leaders from agricultural areas must always both know their own economy and the urban economy. Urban politicians indulge themselves in the illusion that they do not have to know agricultural economics.

It’s complicated.

What the Partnership and every other developer-driven economic model coming at us says is that reducing farmland to its real estate value is simple and the complexity of a living agricultural system -- however mangled by agribusiness conglomeration it is – is messy and dys-economic.

To this, if you are a Valley person, you can only reply with deleted expletives. We will stand behind our rich, incredibly diverse population and our incredibly rich, diverse agricultural production. We will say NO to local and state leadership bought and sold by developers wishing to make the Central Valley the next, upstream, San Fernando Valley. We will oppose a "new" economy based on selling the most productive agricultural land in the world to outside real estate speculators. That isn't economics; that is just ruin.

Statistically, our immigrants look poor. In their hearts they aren’t poor. In their hearts they know what real poverty is – learning takraw in a Thai refugee camp, running for your life from a federale, a government that sold your village, the sheer stagnation of island living.

We have here in the Valley a unique population composed of some of the strongest, most adventuresome people in the world, people who stood up, escaped, lived, thrived, carried on, survived miseries and oppressions our begging bureaucrats will never understand and so will never realize is the only real source of capital there ever was.

The entire panel of the Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley should have adjorned, after their dismal hearing, to Applegate Park to observe Hmongs throw spinning tops. Although they would not have understood the language or how to play the game, those with some residual sensitivity could not have failed to catch the feeling.

The top spinners have no money to pay blockhead partnership. Only the developers can really support partners in the style to which they have become accustomed. A pity. The Hmong top spinners could have reminded the partners of human dignity, a nice palate cleanser after a morning listening to local officials begging for sewer funds to accommodate irresponsible growth. But the partners chose to dine by invitation to their own kind only.

"What are the top 3 priorities for action that will improve the future economic prosperity and quality of life for the San Joaquin Valley?" the Partnership asked.

The public, invited for short comments at the end of the session, replied in part, as follows:

Our "leaders" are dimwits. Don't listen to them. We don't. They have no ideas but urban growth. Their minds are like salad oil slipping off the lip of a plate, as oily as the latest "balancing" of antagonistic, mutually exclusive goals, greased up in new terms every fresh funding season. Our leaders want everything but to make real choices. The public, not our bought and sold empty suits, should have been first, not last, to speak at this hearing. But, the manage that would have required real political leadership on the part of the panel, which has none.

There should be a moritorium on growth until general plans are updated.

There should be a permanent outlawing of the corrupt practice of developers indemnifying land-use authorities against legal challenges arising from their irresponsible, bought and sold land-use decisions.

We should preserve agriculture and wildlife habitat to allow agriculture and wildlife the opportunity to reach their next stages of evolution.

We should develop our enormous human capital rather than allow UC to use it for its public-private, win-win research projects.

We are sick and tired of the "one voice" of local shills for outside speculators. Why is the second point on their agenda always keeping wages low if they wish to develop the Valley? When will they ever awaken from the dream of the fast real estate deal and stand up for their own people, the agricultural productivity of this land, policies that will improve rather than worsen our air and water? When will they quit automatically selling our environment and our workforce on the cheap? When will they find within themselves some other value than simple money greed?

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Below the tipping point

Submitted: May 17, 2006

This year’s Great Valley Center conference was unusually duplicitous, even by the Center’s relaxed standards. Its title, “At the tipping point,” contrasted to the presentations throughout the two days, creating a sense of cognitive dissonance attributable, no doubt, to the Center’s recent merger with the University of California.

The conference poster invited its viewers to look upward at a map of mid-California projected on the sky above a tightrope walker the soles of whose shoes were also above us. I found no one at the conference willing to think about what this poster might mean.

The conference covered every aspect of urban growth but how to slow it down. One participant mentioned the term, “carrying capacity,” once, but the panel thought he was speaking in a Native American language and forgave him for it in the interest of multi-cultural harmony.

The only two resource agencies visible at the conference were the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the state Department of Water Resources. The San Joaquin Valley was recently designated the worst polluted air basin in the US, but not one session addressed this issue, however there were sessions on mass transit, integrating land use and transportation decision making, bikes and walks, and “Greenstop: California’s first sustainable highway rest area”. (Caltrans, not a resource agency, was one of the conference’s “Silver Sponsors.”)

Water was a big topic at the conference and Tim Quinn, vice president of Metropolitan Water District, was a featured speaker and session presenter. Quinn filled the Valley audience with a sense of trust and confidence that Southern California was not interested in Valley water. Session topics included how water will shape the Valley’s future, water transfers (the debate between North and South), water quality, and prioritizing agricultural conservation easements (a UCB report, using cutting edge mapping technology to show that ag easements should be put on flood plains near levees to prevent more subdivisions – because the state has to pay if the homes are flooded).

Growth sessions included:

· Challenges and opportunities for master-planned communities
· Growing rural economies with entrepreneurial community colleges
· What every planner should know about air quality
· After the flush: Reclaimed water strategies
· Sustainable housing
· Green building: A chance for the Valley
· Timber! Modern forestry policy, practices and wildlife
· Green energy powerhouse
· Affordability in today’s housing market
· The man from Brazil, Jaime Lerner (a feature speaker, mayor of a large Brazilian city, who spoke on lower-tech mass transit)
· Land use and planning for dummies
· The Valley blueprint project: A regional approach
· Population challenges
· Wow! Look at Valley downtowns
· Wireless for rural communities
· A featured speech by former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros

Agriculture was also considered:

· Gardens as the center of a community
· Sustainable food moves beyond a niche market
· Alternative fuels: What is the opportunity?

There was also, as always with the Center, an emphasis on how to co-opt local leaders who might pop up here and there to disturb the smooth transition from San Joaquin to San Fernando:

· Grassroots lobbying – how, who, when?
· Promatoras: More than community health workers
· Strategies for engaging rural community leaders
· E Pluribus Unum: Multi-ethnic collaboration for community action

The water discussion, while at times pretending broader perspectives, was continually dragged down into the whirlpool of the Friant lawsuit. On the second morning, a group of state Assembly members – Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto), Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), Roger Neillo (R-Sacramento) and Juan Arambula (D-Fresno) – gave a spirited performance of the point of view of Fresno (City and County) and eastern Tulare and Kern counties’ farmers. The Friant Water Users Authority point of view was also ably represented in every session on water during the conference. When one participant of the session on transfers asked if some of the Friant-Kern water eventually ends up “going over the hill,” he was directly contradicted by Quinn, the representative of DWR and several Tulare farmers. Quinn also said that water would not be a constraint on future Southern California growth. An urbane, sophisticated man, he also mentioned global warming, noting, however, that Metropolitan lacked adequate data on it.

This GVC conference was notable in the experience of frequent attendees of these conferences over the years for its embrace of the principle, Growth Is Inevitable and an Exciting Challenge, and its evident amnesia about agriculture – Valley Farmers Are Large Landowners. Gone was any lip service to agriculture or any awareness or wildlife species and habitat. A few sessions on medical topics substituted for any sense of environmentally caused diseases. The conference seemed to some of us to be part and parcel of what we are calling the Springtime Assault on Valley Natural Resources.

The most offensive aspect of the conference from a social and economic justice perspective was the recognition that two cultures – Anglo and Hispanic – dominate, and that the Anglo culture will get rich off development while the Hispanic is encouraged to develop Third World methods of dealing with political disenfranchisement, educational disadvantage, and health problems arising from environmental degradation. If the Hispanic leaders do not challenge development, the Center will do its best to see that some funding trickles down to local Hispanic leaders. This strategy displays the decades of partisan political experience among top executives at the Center and a heavy dose of UC flak.

The best session was E Pluribus Unum: Multi-ethnic collaboration for community action, an interesting dog-and-pony show, led by Dr. Isao Fujimoto of UCD, displaying a new generation of Valley urban minority youth, discussing strategies for dealing with ethnic gang conflicts, cultural respect, poverty, school, housing and organizing, using tools established in many cases decades ago by a long list of organizations – from Alinksy’s to the Friends Service Committee’s – to help Appalachia del Oeste. Notably missing was any sense of union organizing.

Those of us impressed by UC Merced’s drive to establish a research medical school in the Valley look forward soon to studies like: Differential Rates of Asthma among Children of Anglo-Saxon, African-American, Native American, Hmong, Laotian, Miao, Cambodian, North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Mestizo and Mixteco Descent. We think, if GVC continues its superb work in minority communities, that it will be longer before we see an E Pluribus Unum Workers’ Alliance Against Air Pollution That Is Killing Our Children and Grandparents.

Finally, noting the food served at this GVC conference from an historical perspective, frequent attendees wondered whether the Center was losing funds or just losing interest in holding conferences.

The conference’s top sponsors included: The California Endowment, David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Gerry N. Kamilos, LLC, AT&T, SJVAPCD, Caltrans, Castle & Cooke, Citibank, Comcast, P G & E, Sierra Health Foundation, Pacific Union Homes, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, KVIE, and UC Merced.

Event sponsors included a number of development consultants, Chevron, Western States Petroleum Association, Caltrans, Diesel Technology Forum, Kaiser Permanente, USDA Rural Development, HUD, several utilities, CSU Chico, some green energy companies, and others.

Perhaps sponsors such as these don’t want the Valley public to gather together and break good bread anymore. So many of them, particularly developers and their consultants (with lenders, realtors and landowners standing behind them) maintain a uniformly hostile attitude to public participation in the environmental, health and safety reviews of their projects that grossly affect the quality of life of the Valley public. But, as we learned again at the conference, experts hired by special interests always know what is best for unspecial us. Some of the Center’s top sponsors are grand philanthropists of the planning process – sincerely contributing to the campaigns of elected officials that make local land-use decisions approving the philanthropists’ own projects. This charity even extends to legal indemnification funds that protect the municipalities and counties in case members of the public sue the officials for land-use decisions that might have been influenced more by developer philanthropy than by thoughts of the Public Trust or the common good.

Nevertheless, some resourceful members of the Valley public repaired to a nearby eatery for a lively “breakout session” of their own over good food and wine on the evening of the first day of the conference.

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