Growth

POW/Raptor comment letter on Riverside Motorsports Park draft environmental impact report

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

From: Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
Modesto CA 95350

To: Mr. James Holland January 6, 2006

Merced County Planning Department
2222 M St.
Merced, California 95340 Emailed
Fax: (209) 726-1710

Re: Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report, Riverside Motorsports Park – General Plan Amendment No. 03005,Zone Change No 03007, State Clearinghouse # 2003071138

Dear Mr. Holland,

We are commenting on the DEIR of the Riverside Motorsports Park.

This project, as meticulously described in detail in the DEIR, does not need the flexibility provided by a special zoning designation. Therefore we object to the development plan zoning designation. This proposed major auto raceway, with great cumulative impacts on the environment of Merced County, should, under no conditions, be permitted to change its plan subject only to the administrative approval of a new, out-of-state director of Development Services.

The DEIR is so narrowly focused on the needs of the project that it fails to even consider the broader impacts the project would have to natural resources, public health and safety and infrastructure needs.

We found it unacceptably confusing that the master plan didn’t coordinate in any obvious way with the DEIR.

Until the county General Plan is properly updated, even to consider the number of possible amendments this project would be asking for is irresponsible land-use planning. Currently, the County is claiming an update in 1995. This is not true; it was amended. An amendment is not a comprehensive update. Since then, a number of other amendments have so warped the General Plan that it is now admitted by all to be a useless policy document.

The County has yet to coordinate responsibly with other jurisdictions on other projects like the Bellevue Corridor and the Atwater/Merced Expressway Project.

Racetracks have a history of failure and this one is competing with several major tracks in nearby counties, including Laguna Seca and Sears Point. Proponents require special zoning that will give them extreme flexibility, despite the apparent level of detail and narrow focus of this DEIR. Under the master plan, changes can simply be made by administrative decision of the director of Development Services. Given these three factors, we must consider the probability that this RMP is a holding pattern, just like a golf course, and that at any time, at the administrative discretion of the director of Development Services, the project can be converted, at taxpayer expense, into commercial development, part of a commercial corridor.

The environmental checklist is so over defined by the needs of the project, as opposed to the needs of the environment, that the proposed mitigations and the lack mitigations fail to reach the standard of a competent DEIR, leaving the public and the resource agencies unable to accurately address this project.

Growth is happening in this area in a haphazard, unplanned way. The impacts from this growth have not been taken into consideration in this DEIR. Mitigation measures in this DEIR defer responsibility to other plans, which, like the regional water plan anticipated for six years, are plans to make plans, for example the Traffic and Circulation Management Plan on page 4-31 of the Master Plan. Mixed in with these plans to make plans, are concrete proposals, such as the creation of a new road, Riverside Drive, without any analysis or alternatives.

This document provides no proof for its claim that there will be no impact to wildlife and habitat from the project.

The document displays a faulty understanding of environmental benefit, for example, on p. 4-2 of the Master Plan.

There is no analysis of the pharmaceutical and solvent content of wastewater proposed to be used in the project.

These documents rely on the infrastructure of the former Castle Air Force Base, yet there is no discussion of this infrastructure or its environmental condition.

We have been consistently involved in this area of the county for a number of years, and have provided the County with numerous public comments on environmental concerns.

We are reserving the right to submit additional information at the time of the public hearing on the FEIR.

In conclusion, we support the no-project alternative because this project fails meet CEQA standards and the county’s current, out-dated general plan.

Respectfully submitted,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

cc: Interested parties
William Hatch, Badlandsjournal.com

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Merced County League of Women Voters' dead questions office

Submitted: Jan 04, 2006

The Merced County chapter of the League of Women Voters recently published its January 2006 newsletter concerning a meeting on county land-use policy. Badlands attended and reported on the meeting, Unanswered questions on Merced growth, Wednesday, December 7th, 2005. That meeting was bogus. A large crowd was encouraged to write down questions about growth, listened to a panel of planners, and then the meeting was shut down -- the panel did not answer any of the questions. The reason given was that City Hall was not available beyond a certain time, that time arrived, therefore the meeting was over. There was also some funny business with the computer projector that took up additional (precious) time.

Soliciting questions from the public about growth in one of the two fastest growing regions in the state, and then not answering them but passing them on to the political classes, descends to the level of mere pandering to the remarkably corrupt local, pro-growth power structure of Merced.

While the Badlands editorial staff doesn’t mind critically covering local political events (we think that’s what journalism ought to be and used to be), the staff collectively winces while performing the unpleasant duty of criticizing the League of Women Voters. Badlands staff grew up listening to mothers talk about the League, reading League newsletters and voter education pamphlets. The staff learned its first lessons in democracy from League mothers.

But, says the Merced League, it distributed all the questions to the people that matter. These are the same people who have voted consistently for the development engulfing the county. These are the people who hold unanimously as their first, collective metaphysical principle, that “growth is inevitable.”

According to the newsletter, the League had retired UC professor, Dr. William Teitz compile all the questions and then they were sent to all the presenters (Teitz, the former county planning director and three city planners), the county Board of Supervisors, the mayors of the six cities in the county, and the Merced Sun-Star and Merced County Times.

The whole League-orchestrated Q-but-no-A “public meeting” was a hoax. Tietz, the retired UC professor, gave a very interesting, somewhat drastic presentation about Valley growth that might actually have had some impact if it had been given before UC Merced was a “done deal.” The county planning director (since demoted) gave a countywide overview. Three city planners provided their views on development in their cities. Fast-growing Atwater, strangely, was not represented.

Did the League want to put on an event about growth that looked like it was really open to public, in order to log it in under that title so that it could be referred to later as a real “public dialogue”? Were the planners and the questions window dressing in some sort of display? If it really had been set up to be a town hall meeting it would have gone on until 3 in the morning at a local church. Perhaps, League officers are just hooked on the architecture of these chambers of local government, in which officials are always seated above the public.

The miasma of growth now hangs over Merced political life like a permanent, toxic tule fog. The real war for the future of the county is all but won by developers. It’s a perfect game of political blackmail. The developers have their teeth deeply buried in county government now. If farmers who want to continue farming publicly criticize growth policies, things can happen. Everybody knows how this goes. But, dragging the tradition of the League of Women Voters into it stinks.

The League of Women Voters is committed to making democracy work in Merced, California, across the country and around the world,

Its newsletter claims.

Join us in educating and encouraging men and women to be active citizens and address the issues that affect our lives—election administration reform, campaign finance reform, civil and human rights, citizen engagement, judicial independence and criminal justice, education, health care, urban sprawl and our natural resources …

The newsletter urges. These are important values. Mothers in League chapters during the dark days of McCarthyism were accused of being communists for standing up for these values. Right here in the San Joaquin Valley, 50 years ago. Imagine!

Respect for their mothers’ political bravery requires Badlands staff to make a critical remark of a greatly respected institution: it takes more than a scarf to make a League president. It takes a willingness to stand up for values, which, although non-partisan and thoroughly American, are always controversial. If you don’t stand up for them, but just quote them in your newsletter, you’re betraying them.

But, not content with League value statements, this League chapter has to drag Margaret Mead into it.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

This business of using old values, hard fought for, as advertising and propaganda for an organization that dares not understand what these values mean, and what they cost these women, and for how long, is a widespread bad habit or our era, drowning in propaganda. But those values meant something and should not be simply stuck in a newsletter like decoration or a shopping ad.

Just because you’re not on the front lines of things, doesn’t mean you have to be in the lap of power, either. Just because you are not contributing to a public dialogue does not mean you have to fake one. If you aren’t on the front lines as the League used to be, you ought to go have tea somewhere out of the way.

The way the League handled these questions, they became ammunition and rhetoric for the status quo, thoughtlessly committed to catastrophic growth in Merced County but wise to any advantage provided that will make them look less than the authors of catastrophe. An opportunity for a real public town hall meeting was misrepresented and misused. It was as bad and Cardoza the Shrimp Slayer’s “town hall meeting” in the same venue several months earlier.

Rumors have reached the Badlands staff that the League official facilitating this meeting is planning a career in elective office. Considering that we’ve seen more democratic public meetings at Chairman “Fox Hills” Sloan’s county Planning Commission, we’re taking an early, negative stand on this candidacy. In our view, Merced does not need more of the same-old, same-old well-known substance that seems to get tracked onto every institution in this county, regardless of former ideals. Developers have their teeth in the throat of local government here. This is no time for the League of Women Voters to be used as a platform for political postures.

The League newsletter concluded with a stirring letter from a mother in 1951 about how to raise a democratic child:

HELP MAKE DEMOCRACY LIVE

I can help make democracy live because the best citizen is not the one who knows the most, but the one who cares the most. Because I am a mother, I can teach my children to care about people and those values essential to democracy.

If I show my child that his rights and possessions are respected, if I teach him to take his turn and to do his share, if I help him to feel loved and valued for himself, I’ll be teaching him to believe in the inalienable rights of all people.

I will not train my child in blind obedience born of fear, for that makes dictators possible. I will expect only the conformity suitable to his age. I will not demand acceptance of all my opinions. I will tolerate the stress and strain of disagreement in order to encourage that free expression of ideas which enriches group life and in order to further the self-discipline required for democratic living. My child can become truly democratic only by practicing that way of life.

By my example, I will seek to show my child that democracy is worth all it costs. I will obey the laws, even those I dislike. I will pay my taxes without evasion. I will be fair to people who differ from me in race, religion, or political philosophy. I will study my government in order to vote intelligently. I will take time to serve my community.

In such simple everyday ways we can do our share as citizens. If we parents care enough, we can make democracy live.

Martha Fugate Pitman
Reprinted from the July 1951 Parents’ Magazine

What a beautiful dream, and how widely shared it was in the Valley in those years. They were not the easiest years economically or politically, but there was that sweet dedication of parents who had known depression and war and had transmuted harsh experience into love and care for the next generation. And with that love went these high ideals, League of Women Voter ideals. There was a code for “democratic living,” and we thought we were learning it. But we let the code down, not understanding, I think, the amount of struggle that lay just behind it, in perhaps the previous three generations. It may well have been children of League mothers of that era who reminded us of Susan B. Anthony, Mother Jones and the other heroic women in American history. We inherited it; we didn’t earn it. Eventually, that movement for democracy, became fatally involved with the power aspirations of the Democratic Party and was corrupted as horribly as conservatism, allied with the Republican Party, is now being corrupted.

In fact, unfortunately, the values Mrs. Pitman so eloquently articulated during the recession of the early 1950s, are a code of conduct almost guaranteed for failure in practical affairs in America. Unless checked by concerted public action, the lying, bullying, lawless thief is far more likely to gain power and wealth in this society.

I wish there had been a real town hall meeting on development because I think it is only in that sort of forum that real public power over the public future can be developed. But, following the well-established pattern of orchestration established by UC Merced and its local boosters in and out of government, that did not happen this time.

And time is running out. If the Merced public is not to be coerced into complete slurbocracy, town meetings in which citizens – whether feeling safe or not – do get up and speak their minds directly to power are necessary. Otherwise, the Merced public cannot expect anything but more of the slurbocracy now engulfing it. The developers came to play and they wrote many of the rules of the game.

Here are the unanswered questions, rescued from the League of Women Voters’ dead question office. They are doubtlessly now being eagerly studied by our political leaders as carefully as a comment letter on an environmental impact report. The Badlands staff is holding its breath and turning blue in the face waiting for the detailed answers the supervisors, mayors and newspaper editors are going to give in public to these questions.

1. Does the urban growth of Merced County benefit current residents economically more than outside investors/developers?
2. How does it reflect on our community when we raise children that can’t afford to live or work here? Why must we continue the urban growth of Merced County at the expense of our quality of living?
3. How will the urbanization affect our cost of living? Do we as citizens, have rights to object to any of your plans if we don’t like them?
4. Why has growth not taken place along Hwy 5?
5. Where are all these future residents going to work? And shop? And go for recreation? Is this more cars on the roads driving out of the area, spending money in other areas?
6. What happens to the houses + land that is left over from the development that is moving to the north?
7. How will the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center affect traffic on 99 and air quality?
8. What are some major planning issues? Are the requirements that developers have to meet to develop really feasible? These requirements can sometimes kill development and instead maybe could make incentives or fee reduction.
9. Why so much low density residential in the county expansion plans?
10. Are the community plans financially constrained? Who is paying for the new infrastructure + expanded services?
11. Should the county and cities adopt a jobs/housing balance into their general plans?
12. In terms of the growth in Franklin / Planada what is the plan for wastewater?
13. What steps are being taken to expand the city of Merced (i.e. ready existing streets and freeways) to accommodate so many more people?
14. What conjectured growth could be attributing to U.C. Merced? (As a single catalyst)
15. Should major roadways be determined before development is approved?
16. Do you foresee an eastside freeway being constructed? The route could follow the old road before the railroad. The route would create beltways around urban areas like Visalia, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, and Sacramento.
17. What about roads?
18. Due to infrastructure capacity constraints can new alternatives be used, for example, recycled water (tertiary treatment-package plants) to meet the needs of new development?
19. Has the underground water supply for the San Joaquin Valley been quantified? If not how can continued urban growth continue?
20. Growth is inevitable however it is taking away the farmland. The same people wanting to build are the ones that will complain when food is expensive. Why do they always choose to use high producing agricultural areas to build houses? Why can't they use non-producing land?
21. In view of the diminishing acreage of productive agriculture land, an irreplaceable resource will boards of supervisors and city councils ever be able to contribute to the preservation of agricultural land? If not what do you suggest?
22. Can agricultural businesses continue to survive at the height of urban development?
23. What’s going to happen to the farm based business with urban growth?
24. Has there been consideration of growing up in multiple story housing complexes in order to preserve agricultural land?
25. Where’s the water?
26. What is the proposed plan for wastewater tax for?
27. Why is the prime farmland scenario unrealistic?
28. Food security requires farmland be protected. Should we require protection by state or federal government to protect farmland like environment is protected?
29. Why are the farmers so dead set against urbanization? Can’t individual farms continue to farm in the middle of growth?
30. To curb urban encroachment into Prime farmland is anything being done to encourage high-rise apartments/condos & office space?
31. Who should determine if a local food supply is important far future generations? Should food security be a public policy issue?
32. What measures are being taken to 1) To ensure resource conservation and 2.) Protect wildlife and natural areas?
33. Can the panelists comment on the potential for collaborative planning between local agencies for regional development in Merced County and throughout the central valley.
34. Dr.Teitz you write in your report that “Valley residents are skeptical about their government institutions ability to solve problems.” (Pg. 80) What can governments do to reduce the skepticism and meet the needs of the future?
35. With all these general plan updates going on, where to how can individuals (local) organizations be most effective in getting what WE want? (Versus out of area investors) Can the panelists comment on the potential for collaborative planning between local agencies for regional development in Merced County and throughout the central valley?
36. You mentioned “resistance to growth” from the Bay Area (as one of the forces of population growth+ urbanization to the valley) what have they done and why can’t we also resist such growth?

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Merced year in frosting

Submitted: Jan 01, 2006

The Merced Sun-Star editors Saturday licked the frosting off their fingers from the cake they imagine they have and are eating, while others in the community imagine the editors been had and are being eaten. Looking at the "many great things" brought in the past year, they said:

Perhaps the biggest was the opening of the University of California, Merced, campus. This dream for several decades finally became a multi-million dollar reality last fall as the first students occupied dorms and classrooms.

Odd choice of words, "multi-million dollar reality." It certainly was a multi-million dollar investment for the taxpayers of California. It certainly raised landowners' property values for development, and home building and land ripping is certainly going along -- involving many millions of dollars going one way and another.

However, the sugar fix is in at the Sun-Star as always: UC Merced was not even a glimmer, much less a dream even in the greedy little minds of the various Mr. and Ms. Merceds, when, as the result of a joint environmental/agricultural lawsuit in the late 1980s, a general plan was finally written for the county in 1991. This general plan, despite Sun-Star frosting delirium, was never updated, as it is now proposed it might be at some point in the next several years. It was amended, amended, and amended, to the point where it is useless as any kind of guidance for development. And the mother amendment of them all has been UC Merced and the UC Community Plan.

Then one wonders at the lapse of adverbial consistency. In the lead, UC Merced is described as the "most notably" good thing. Here, it is merely "Perhaps the biggest." This lapse can be explained by the terrible strain the Sun-Star editors have been under since the UC Merced "done-deal" that wasn't, in 1998, until now. A steady stream of UC Merced Bobcatflak for seven years or more has drowned thought and silenced the critical mind in that newsroom. But the immediate cause is the frosting high from the delusion of having and eating the cake.

The loss of a newspaper is a political tragedy, A.J. Liebling, one of our greatest newspaper critics thought, back in the 1950s. Today it is a foregone conclusion whenever any institution with an adequately staffed flak office moves to town. Merced has a prison, the WalMart and a whole bunch of big-box retailers, and now UC Merced. Merced is now far, far too important for anything as tacky as journalistic inquiry.

A stunning example springs to mind from what the paper calls its news department. A week after County CEO Dee Tatum introduced Bobby Lewis to the Board of Supervisors as his choice to directed the planning department -- nobody on the board or in the planning department seemed to know anything about Lewis -- the newspaper did a story on the appointment. It focused on the "demotion" of former director, Bill Nicholson.

"There isn't quote-unquote a need for a new director," Tatum said. "We really need to focus on what services we're giving people and what the board wants."

Presuming Tatum actually uttered this meaningless statement, reporting, writing and printing it serve only to further fog the public brain, already misted over by the steady stream of Bobcatflak dutifully reprinted as "news" in the Sun-Star for lo, these many years (but not yet decades).

He (Lewis) spent 17 years working in the planning departments for the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson, Nev.

In 1998, he started his own engineering and surveying company and eventually ended up as vice president for a Las Vegas developer.

It would have been awfully nice to know what Las Vegas developer Lewis worked for and whether or not this Las Vegas developer has interests in Merced or is planning to have interests in Merced. There is no evidence our newspaper even thought to ask. The whole article, in fact, increases public suspicion that a new fix is in at the planning department.

Returning to the collective mind of the editors that passed on this story, municipal joy is asked for federal highway funding for the Mission Interchange, which will permit traffic to bypass Merced on its way to UC -- perhaps not a boon to downtown business but a windfall to a number of landowners with farming roots (like Lewis says he has) selling to developers along the Campus Parkway. And if that weren't enough joy, Merced has landed "a major Wal-Mart distribution center which will provide hundreds of good jobs for local residents." Organized labor in America hates WalMart like no other corporation. Is it possible organized labor has some reason for its hatred? Then, of course, there is editorial joy for passage of the obligatory "enhanced" police/fire bond to keep those local residents employed by WalMart, and even some who aren't, in line, and to provide new fire stations for new neighborhoods.

Editorial joy for new school construction is muted because there is nothing to be joyful about after the developers whupped the school administrators into submission this year. The quality of Merced K-12 public education was the big loser for years to come as a result of the UC Merced-induced, speculative housing boom. The concluding pious hope for lower crime rates and better public education is pure frosting revery.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/11642823p-12372373c.html

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11636386p-12366520c.html

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Who is Robert A. Lewis?

Submitted: Dec 22, 2005

The largest group of stories listed on the Merced Sun-Star’s website under City/County during the last two weeks concern growth. Since the arrival of UC Merced, Merced County has been widely reported to be one of the three fastest growing counties in California. Yet, neither Merced nor San Bernardino and Riverside have achieved the growth level of Clark County, Nev., home of Las Vegas, which, according to 2005 estimates, is the fastest growing county in the nation.

Nonetheless, one would have thought it somewhat important, at least to the Sun-Star’s readers, to report the county decision to hire Robert A. Lewis as its director of development services, and to demote Bill Nicholson to the position of assistant director.

Lewis’ arrival was a surprise to the county planning staff as well. One of them said they didn’t know anything about Lewis until he was appointed, Tuesday, at the board of supervisors’ meeting (Agenda item 31). Demitrios O. Tatum, county CEO, reported at that time, “Pursuant to the County’s Recruitment and Selection Resolution, Human Resources has conducted an open recruitment for the Development services Director. An offer of employment was extended to Mr. Robert A. Lewis on December 9, 2005, subject to confirmation by the Board.”

The board confirmed the appointment.

Rumors began to float about the county. Lewis came from Henderson, Nev., some said. North Las Vegas, others said. Another planner said he thought Lewis had been in the planning departments of both Henderson and Las Vegas. There is a reference on Google to a Bobby Lewis, of Tetra Southwest, representing Creative Choice West, an apartment developer, before the North Los Vegas City Council on July 5, 2005. The project was referred back to staff.

Henderson’s public information officer said Wednesday she did not remember him as a member of the planning department, but knew him in his capacity as a consultant for developers. She said she was pretty certain our new Robert Lewis wasn’t related to the Lewis Homes’ Robert Lewis, a major Clark County developer. A Clark County PIO said he never worked there. I wasn’t able to get through to the planning departments of the cities of Las Vegas or North Las Vegas. I'm not claiming Lewis’ resume is not as honest as the day is long. The question is, where is the resume? The newspaper seems completely indifferent to this appointment and the staff report on the confirmation was devoid of all information but the man’s name and Tatum's authority to hire him.

Members of the public who take a deep interest in county planning issues wonder how exactly Lewis was found and appointed with about as much fanfare as an ant breaking wind. Tatum informed the board of supervisors Lewis arrived via the CEO’s authority under county Ordinance Code Section 2.08.150 (B) “Selection of department heads and officers.

Appointment to the following positions shall be made by the county executive officer subject to confirmation by the board of supervisors … 12. Planning Director.

Lewis was appointed as director of development services. Nicholson was demoted from director of planning and community development to assistant director of that department. Nowhere, except on a county organizational chart, does the office of director of development services appear. Yet, everyone seems to agree that Lewis has been Nicholson’s boss since Tuesday.

In Merced County, there is a legal theory that a county ordinance is law, regardless of how it conflicts with state law. This theory was recently rejected in Superior Court when it was argued by county counsel, who is now looking for a new job. The secrecy behind the hiring of Lewis totally violates the intent of the state Brown Act, governing open meetings. The county planning department has habitually misused the state Public Records Act, requiring that anyone who wants any public information from it to file what amounts to a Merced County Public Records Act request. Presumably Tatum will require a state Public Records Act request to find out what the A. in Robert A. Lewis stands for. The public would like to know what Lewis knows about other peculiar California laws, like the California Environmental Quality Act, the Agricultural Preserve and the Williamson Act.

Lewis brings to five the number of non-elected officials with major, contending control of county planning and who can be counted on to recommend approval of any development project (if one considers that Nicholson will enjoy some advantage of information over his new boss and long-time involvement with most of the current projects).

· Nicholson, now assistant county planning director
· Lewis, director of development services
· Bob Smith, former county planning director, former director of the former County of Merced UC development office (University Community Plan), now with an office in the public works department
· John Fowler, director of commerce, aviation and economic development (Riverside Motorsports Park)
· Paul Fillebrown, director of public works (Campus Parkway)

Lest this list confuse you, be certain all are firmly under the control of CEO Tatum, who last year appeared, according to county documents, to buy a piece of property in Planada for an estimated $254,000 from Pacific Holt Corporation a day before the county Housing Authority sold the parcel to Pacific Holt for an estimated $509,000. The Sun-Star reportedly looked into the case but found it amounted to as little as the appointment of a county director of development services.

The word on the street, to which McClatchy’s local snoozers reduce us, is that the supervisors doesn’t know any more about Lewis than the public does. Under this ordinance, Tatum decides, period, and the supervisors have no responsibility for who runs planning in their county. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter who you elect.

Merced County supervisors have become developer pets. They serve without term limits, they vote themselves raises whenever they wish, and in this state they dominate our land-use planning. Developers indemnify them from any legal expenses arising from lawsuits challenging the legality of their land-use decisions. Their CEO decides – in consultation with whom? – who runs our planning department. The local paper doesn’t bother to challenge the racket. Predatory development investment swarms into the Valley demolishing farms and natural habitat for wildlife and the few remaining native plant species, and the warmth under greenhouse gases rises to the Sierra snow pack.

Notes:

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Vegas

www.cityofnorthlasvegas.com/MeetingsAndAgendas/ PDFs/CityCouncil/MinutesArchive/2000/Minutes070500.pdf

http://www.badlandsjournal.com/old/getarch2.php?title=The%20County%20Planada%20policy

http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/pa/display.aspx?pkey=397

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Reform mood hits Valley

Submitted: Dec 19, 2005

Appropriate for the worst air quality basin in the nation, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District last week decided the Valley would be the first region in the nation where developers must pay an air pollution fee for the new homes they build. While the amount of the fee, less than $800, which can be reduced by various mitigating factors, is a token that will be entirely passed on to home buyers, it establishes an important principle.

The Valley air pollution fee on new development acknowledges that the public has been subsidizing new development in the Valley as air pollution descended to Los Angeles standards and is now worse in some years. The Valley public has subsidized the new development with its own health, particularly the health of its most vulnerable citizens – children and the elderly. It has subsidized development with higher health care spending. The Valley public has subsidized growth in terms of deteriorating water quality and supply, sewer, water and road expansions. Valley children have subsidized growth by attending over-crowded, deteriorating public schools.

The Valley public has subsidized urban sprawl politically through the loss of representation of its elected officials, who for years have been distracted from their obligations to the general public by their obligations to developers, who make up the largest part of their campaign financing. The system whereby any developer, from the University of California to the national homebuilders to sand-and-gravel miners, automatically indemnifies the local land-use authority (city or county) from paying its own legal costs if the public sues the jurisdiction for violations of environmental law or public process has protected local land-use decision-makers from taking financial responsibility for decisions appellate court judges on occasion find absurd – unless the University of California is involved. How could UC say or do anything absurd?

Valley children are paying the highest price. Not permitted recess periods during the increasing number of bad air days; their asthma rate is a regional disgrace. What may be producing action on the air quality front is that childhood asthma has no decent respect for income levels, affecting the rich as well as the poor children of the Valley. But, due to developer political rigging in Sacramento, the children also pay because the developers do not pay an adequate amount of money for schools to keep up with growth.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board recently refused to be intimidated by a Hilmar Cheese legal/public-relations campaign to make it back off fining the “largest cheese factory in the world” $4 million for polluted ground water. The board will soon hold a scooping meeting and public workshop to examine agricultural pesticide discharges into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Tracy, hometown of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, under national attack for months,

authorized spending $60,000 to hire a consultant to write a plan that will identify potentially available land encircling the city's limits and address how the city can pay to keep that land pristine. If adopted, residents may continue to see acres of farmland and trees around town instead of unbridled roadways, rooftops and restaurants. (1)

It might be that the Pombo dynasty of real estate farmers is losing its grip on Tracy government. The leader of the local slow-growthers is Celeste Garamendi, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi’s sister.

The Stockton Record editorialized on Dec. 16 about preserving the Williamson Act to preserve agricultural land.

For 40 years, extraordinary measures have been taken to protect California farmland. This commitment is critically important now -- Since 1965, the Williamson Act has been the No. 1 device for conserving California's 30 million acres of agricultural land. More and more, its protections are under assault as homebuilders, developers and farmers seek ways to circumvent its restrictions. The Williamson Act is a relatively modest program that has been successful in protecting and preserving agricultural land in a state whose economy depends so heavily upon it. It's been especially important in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. There's no reason it shouldn't remain California's agricultural sentinel for 40 more years. (20)

Modesto Bee editor Marc Vashe wrote a tribute to Ralph Brown, former speaker of the state Assembly from Modesto, who wrote the Brown Act protecting the public’s right to access to governmental decisions. Brown retired after a successful legislative career of nearly 20 years, the last three as Assembly speaker. Jesse Unruh succeeded him. John Williamson was elected to the state Assembly in the early 1960s from Bakersfield. He seemed only to have served long enough to get the agricultural conservation law passed, when only years later came to bear his name.

Little is heard from the other half of the bipartisan environmental law gutting team that farmers are calling O Pomboza, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. A consortium of local, state and national groups filed suit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service yet again last week on its latest truncated, politically coerced, critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered and threatened species living in or close to the vernal pool wetlands. The largest fields of contiguous vernal pools in the nation lie in Cardoza’s district. So far, his several bills to damage or destroy the designation under the Endangered Species Act have failed but his finger prints are visible on the various slashed versions of the designation since Cardoza went to Congress in 2003.

Meanwhile, The Shrimp Slayer has a bit of a mess on his hands in his local office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. A few weeks ago, the county announced Ruben Castillo, county counsel, would be leaving, after a lackluster defense of county policies in a number of lawsuits. Today, the rumor was that Planning Director Bill Nicholson has been demoted to assistant planning director. The new planning director, the story goes, comes from fast-growing Henderson, Nevada, where (s)he has doubtlessly burned the midnight oil studying the California Environmental Quality Act.

And UC Merced still does not have its Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand northward onto the Virginia Smith Trust land where its Long Range Development Plan said it would. This leaves the option of expanding onto the land presently designated for the University Community.

Cardoza, whose political mentors appear to be Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho and Pombo, has worked hard to corrupt both the Brown and the Williamson acts in Merced County on behalf of UC Merced and developers. That kind of reputation might be coming around to bite him if the reform mood surfacing in the Valley gathers any momentum.

Notes:

(1) Tracy to plan for open spaces...Rick Brewer...12-18-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051218&Category=NEWS0101&ArtNo=512180351&SectionCat=&Template=printart

(2) Keep saving the land...Editorial...12-16-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051216&Category=OPED01&ArtNo=512160333&SectionCat=&Template=printart

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Higher education as if students mattered?

Submitted: Dec 11, 2005

The study just released by the University of California, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” (1) is a particularly specious bit of UC/corporate flak, reminiscent of the campaign for UC Merced. The study argues that if you have more college-educated people in your society, you will have less crime and more high-paying jobs. Many economists would suggest that job demand has something to do with the equation – but they didn’t get this grant. A supply of college-educated people of working age less than the job demand for them could be a recipe for extreme job competition, lower wages, higher rates of turnover, social discontent and emigration of a significant portion of a workforce whose education was subsidized by taxpayers. Since what is meant by education in this study is technological training, it’s fair to ask how Californians with technological training compete today with Indians and Asians with comparable training. Ask Silicon Valley, which has been off-shoring California jobs to India and Asia for several decades, as well as importing foreign high tech workers to the Peninsula. San Jose is today a true city of the world, a place larger than California, attracting the best and brightest technological workers of the world.

Training, inventiveness, intelligence and education aren’t the problems facing California. Funded by a group calling itself the Campaign for College Opportunity, which appears to be a front group for the California Business Roundtable, once again, UC is taking an opportunity to recycle unreliable demographic data to make a case for more public spending on UC, with a bit left over for the lesser public institutions of higher learning.

People are tired of this nonsense. It is highly conspicuous waste, meant to doll up a class of “leaders” for their next honoraria. The study was commissioned by the business roundtable, a cabal of banks, insurance companies, developers, land companies, energy companies, construction and engineering firms and miscellaneously wealthy companies like Gap and J.G. Boswell, involved in the world, cotton trade, and the J. Paul Getty Trust, headed by Barry Munitz, former Charles Hurwitz associate and (“chainsaw”) chancellor of the CSU system. The intervening group, Campaign for College Opportunity, is headed by the roundtable’s president, includes a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce vice president, several university officials, a UC regent, union officials and minority group representatives. But the state taxpayers paid for the salaries of the UC researchers to pimp the next college/university building boom, based on demographic assumptions already dubious when they were used to sell UC Merced (2). But, at least then, we knew they were just the usual state Department of Finance figures to support the coming speculative housing bubble. That is now rapidly fading. Evidently, the study indulges in them only because it can. Apparently, it is a UC affectation to demand more public funds, pay exorbitant executive salaries (3), sell its services to whatever the corporate buyer demands, and all without any responsibility to the public that pays for the salaries, the maintenance, repair, and for the thousands of other services, plants and equipment that go to making up public institutions of higher learning from the community college outpost in the remote rural town to UC Berkeley.

Perhaps the cogent business reason for promoting another higher education building boom, paid for by the public, is because new colleges and universities, particularly if located in remote areas, attract suburban development like stables attract horse flies.

Perhaps, the state’s enlightened business roundtable, representing 56 corporations, almost half on the Fortune 500 list, believe that it is essential for us to pay for enough new public higher education institutions so that not one – not one! – potential bio-technician or computer engineer escapes his or her destiny to be trained for entrance into the “new economy;” so that not one potential mortgage lender, predatory credit-card enabler, insurance agent or realtor will slip through the system to become a bum, a mechanic or a handiman in this economy, which our business leaders assure us will continue, generation after generation, through levee breaks, global warming, oil peak, waves of immigration and global competition. We should pay through taxes, tuitions and living expenses to educate the next generation so that not one, but five or ten shall be trained identically, to cut each others’ throats in the high-tech job marketplace of the eternally affluent future of technocracy, sure to continue if only we believe our universities, our business leaders and those they employ in elective governmental posts.

Since the propaganda is coming down so hard on us from this source, I think it might be fair for the public to request that California corporations clean up our air and water, stop building more slurbs, build colleges and universities in other states, subsidize our deprived youth to attend them, pay off the current state budget deficit, and provide adequate energy supplies as long as possible at non-profit rates.

At a time when the state treasury rests firmly in the hands of Wall Street, when rich Californians are not even taxed at the normal level prior to 1993, our business leaders urge more public investment in higher education. Following a period of immense profit-taking, unable to wrap themselves in the flag (sullied by total failure in Iraq), they wrap themselves in the Blue and Gold, the priestly garb of a public university reported to have misplaced 600 pounds of plutonium (3), another $6 million of public funds at Los Alamos National Laboratory (4), and the “distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative stipends, bonuses and other hidden cash compensation to employees” to be investigated by the Legislature in January (3).

Education as if the state’s youth mattered might begin by designing a curriculum around what they will need to survive the economy bequeathed them by our business leaders? This would involve the question: what does California society need from business rather than what business needs from society? This might lead to concerns about the problem of quality of life rather than income levels, in world where even stolen resources are rapidly shrinking and life satisfaction might well have to be found in living a life “simple in means, rich in ends,” as philosopher Arne Naess puts it. The problem of how to educate a generation of youth to face – not just the diminished expectations of our generation – but the radically diminished expectations compelled by resource depletion on theirs – would be worthy of a public university. But that might require a university that felt itself under some obligation to tell the truth to the people of the state rather than to flak its corporate funders’ line. It would require a look at where we are, rather than at the “statistical fantasies” offered by this study. (5)

By contrast, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” seems redolent with privileged irresponsibility, people saying things because they can merely because they are who they are – the ones who got the grant. Perhaps it is a fashionably conspicuous form of madness cultivated in leading academic circles these days.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) http://www.collegecampaign.org/CalROI-ExSum.pdf
(2) http://www.csun.edu/~hfoao102/@csun.edu/csun97_98/csun0223_98/features/wave.html

Said Paul Warren, director of the LAO's education division, "The academic world is saying, 'Panic, panic, panic.' We're saying it's not time to panic.

(3) www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/ c/a/2005/11/30/BAGGQFVT7J1.DTL
(4) www.californiaaggie.com/article/?id=7299
(5) http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/columns/walters/story/13949532p-14784215c.html

The notion of studying the costs and benefits of public higher education is plausible. We should know what maintaining the system is costing taxpayers, what economic benefits flow to society and students from those dollars and what the eventual return to taxpayers might be. We should also be told how the public colleges and universities fit into the state's largely private economy - whether they are training the right number of professionals in the right kinds of fields, for instance, or whether their research is enhancing job creation.

Finally, we should know whether higher and lower education systems, maintained by taxpayers at immense cost - well over $60 billion a year - are meshing well or are wasting money on turf battles and incompatible priorities.

UC professors Henry Brady and Michael Hout, however, merely assume that attending college is a societal benefit and amass their synthetic evidence.

"California is sliding from exceptional to ordinary, from 'great' to 'good enough' (and) our study shows that educational investments can help restore California's greatness and preserve its high quality of life while returning more benefits to the state than they will cost the taxpayers," Brady said in a statement.

Brady and Hout don't tell us whether the economy could absorb the increased number of college attendees and graduates they advocate, or even whether there are substantially more youngsters capable of doing college-level work. While decrying the decline in California's high school graduation and college education rates in relation to other states, they don't explore the factors, such as the huge increase in non-English-speaking students or the immense changes in the California economy, that contribute to those trends. They assume, more or less, that there are many millions of Californians who would attend college if only the taxpayers would foot the bill and that expansion would generate big economic returns.

Finally, Brady and Hout fail to explain this phenomenon: There's no apparent shortage of college-trained workers in California (except in a few highly technical fields), but employers are having a heck of a time recruiting cops, carpenters, nurses, electricians, auto mechanics - even truck drivers. Who's going to do the real work if everyone is getting a college degree?

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Unanswered questions on Merced growth

Submitted: Dec 08, 2005

The Merced County League of Women Voters held a workshop at Merced City Hall last week on several general plan updates going on around the county.

The first speaker, Dr. Michael Teitz, is an emeritus professor at UC Berkeley who said he had consulted with UC Merced recently. He was introduced as a scholar who had studied the Valley for years.

In view of what Teitz said about the urbanization of the Valley, it would have been interesting to have heard from him some time sooner than after the “UC Merced done deal” was really done. But, like UC biologists largely muzzled during the planning and development stage, Dr. Teitz was not a household word in Merced when what he had to say might have had some influence.

He had a slide show/power-point presentation called “Future Urbanization of the San Joaquin Valley.” There can be no greater concern than the future urbanization of the Valley, he said, but failed to say why.

He announced that nobody can tell the future, but from the past certain deductions might be made and certain patterns observed and then reported on some possible scenarios generated by computer models at UC.

Only 2 percent of the San Joaquin Valley was urbanized in 2000, according to Teitz’ figures, but, due to the location of the county seats along railroad routes adjacent to prime farmland, most of this urbanization has occurred on prime farmland. Yet, in the last 30 years, the Valley has growth at a rate of 300 percent, its population now exceeds that of 20 states and by 2040, if this rate continues, it will equal the population of the greater Bay Area.

Yet, this will not be urbanization in the classic sense of cities, but the suburbanization of farmland. The Valley is growing at a rate nearly equal to Mexico, exceeding the Central Valley as a whole, California and the nation by widening margins. Valley growth is, for example, much higher than growth in the metro Sacramento area.

It will be the greatest transformation the Valley has seen since the coming of irrigation, Teitz said. To what effects, he asked.

Increasing asthma (especially among children); more competition for water; loss of wildlife habitat and environmental quality; encroachment on agriculture; increasing conflicts over land use; it raises a profound, unanswered question about what will the future economic base be for this increased population; and growth itself does not seem to address the problems of endemic poverty (“as bad as anywhere in the US,” he said) and high unemployment in the Valley.

Assuming (without admitting he was assuming) this growth is “inevitable,” Teitz presented data from four computer models, to show where this growth might occur over the next 45 years.

Assuming things go on as they are going now, the “let it rip” scenario, the model foresaw a slurb from Fresno to Bakersfield, which Teitz compared with what is happening on the 101 corridor from San Rafael to Ukiah. This scenario presents us with a suburb on prime farmland expanding outward from 99 through most of the Valley. Since it is the most likely scenario, it explains why the Great Valley Center has expended so much attention on the beautification of 99.

The second model assumed there would be no construction on prime farmland. Teitz dismissed it an entirely unrealistic model.

The third model introduced the high-speed railroad and claimed that growth would be denser and clustered around the stations along the route, as if someone knew where those stations might go.

The last scenario assumed major improvement of roads, particularly east-west roads, in the Valley. This one seemed to have less impact on prime farmland than the present growth pattern, Teitz said. Throughout the performance, the professor seemed more interested in the models than in the problem.

But there appear to be several problems with the most likely scenario – “let it rip” growth, what we have today. First is the question: how much asthma is too much asthma, here in the worst air quality basin in the nation? Second, is global warming, which seems to be producing more and more dramatic effects in the world despite its denial by the Bush administration and California developers. Considering global warming, it ought to be the planning principle that – barring evidence the addition of millions of people and their automobiles will not harm the Valley environment – we ought to plan not to grow, to protect what we have. Third is mounting evidence that the world is approaching or has reached the peak of its oil supply and fuel will become scarcer and more expensive as the years go by. This would seem to be an excellent argument for stopping the growth of bedroom communities in the agricultural Valley, when coupled with the complete economic mystery of how the additional millions would be employed in the Valley. In mentioning competition for water, Teitz failed to mention a more immediately pressing problem: water pollution.

It was not even whispered by the planners that California’s population has so far exceeded its resource-carrying capacity that what is called “growth” today, providing a few more billions for a very few billionaires, is entirely at the expense of natural resources the region cannot afford to lose on any account, least of all for the non-human species whose rights to live and evolve have been bulldozed away along with the environment that is intrinsically valuable. Growth in California has damaged the quality of life for everyone and everything.

A classical economics based on human needs rather than desire will either be reinvented in theory, by government and by planning, or it will be forced on us all by events, without any theory, government awareness or planning. At the moment, growth in the Valley is occurring primarily through flight from the more expensive real estate markets of the coast, where the jobs are, rather than any real need or attraction on the part of new residents for the Valley. This is causing and will cause more social friction as good ag land is destroyed to build homes for people who really don’t want to be here.

City planners from Los Banos, Livingston and Merced followed Bill Nicholson, director of the county Planning and Community Development to the podium. Fred Goodrich, the Los Banos planner, remarked that, based on his 26 years of professional planning, growth would go right on, “unfortunately,” because prime farmland is cheaper than Bay Area land and there are enough willing sellers.

Nicholson explained that most of the new growth in the county has been on prime farmland because, although there is political support for preserving it, there is law and regulation in support of preservation of wildlife habitat and endangered species on the rangeland borders of the Valley. He carefully qualified this support as state and federal, not local government. It is certainly true that thousands of acres containing state and federally protected wetlands and endangered species have been deep-ripped in Merced County in recent months without a peep out of Nicholson’s department to federal and state regulating agencies. In fact, so much rangeland habitat and wetlands is going so fast that federal maps of critical habitat and vernal pool recovery plans are quite out-of-date, thanks to the pro-growth attitude of the county, led by the O Pomboza team of Endangered Species Act gutters in Congress.

Both Goodrich and Nicholson indicated the only limitation on growth in the Valley they could foresee would be the costs of the public works projects necessary to provide sewer, water and roads for the new residents. Already, the capacity of the county’s sewers lag far behind its growth.

Donna Kenny, the Livingston planner, announced that Livingston’s new general plan was funded by its two major developers. Her solution to the employment problem was that once the rooftops were built, commercial business would follow.

Merced City planner, Kim Espinoza, explained that Merced was growing.

At the end of the lectures, Susan Walsh, the League official facilitating the meeting, announced that there were many interesting questions from the packed house, but there was no time to answer any of them. So, urging everyone to contact elected officials, she read each question, as if the public mattered in Merced County.

Walsh reads quite well, after having opined earlier in the League workshop that there was no way to stop growth.

Bill Hatch

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