Growth

California house products sold like last year's cars

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

Taking an advertising tip from the nation's failing auto industry, which just laid off another 60,000 workers, this Sacramento-area home builder is running a house-product sale reminiscent of a year-end car sale or the weekend radio ads for Okie Paul and Mary's furniture sales fifty years ago in Sacramento. Only the numbers appear to be bigger.

Best news of all -- this fine, genuine, California-built developer culture has come right here in Merced, too. Ain't we big now! Ain't we got klass?

There's some differences and similarities between subdivisions and car lots that might be worth thinking about. When you finish building and selling your house products on your subdivision, you get another lot and do it again. When the car dealer finishes selling last year's models, he gets next year's models on the same lot. It's subtle, but it's there.

But your car lot and your subdivision work together because your new residents bring and buy cars.

But this gets into your air, your water, your traffic and your public health and safety problems -- not to mention what you're doing to the wildlife -- which are all way too subtle thoughts for your genuine California developer culture. Your genuine California developer culture keeps it real simple: it's all about their profits.

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The Sacramento Bee

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Canada buys a brace of local legislators

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

Toronto-based Brookfield Land Co., with offices in Roseville, honored state Sen. Jeff Denham, Dolt-Salinas, and Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, Shill-Tracy, at a developer fete in Sacramento last night. The Canadian developers plan to build 13,000 houses between Merced and Atwater in the near future.

Booze, finger-food and campaign contributions were served.

Was Brookfield's local fixer, Cameron Doyel, authorized to offer the Dolt and the Shill emigration papers after their terms expire and Valley air quality reaches a level unhealthful for retired developer representatives in the former state Legislature?

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11777657p-12497098c.html

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Publicly subsidized Merced Grifters to give another "One Whine" concert at state Capitol

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

“ With a paid lobbyist by their side, the group of two dozen people calling themselves the "One Voice Delegation" will meet with directors, cabinet heads and politicians in the capital today and Wednesday.” Chris Collins Merced SunStar Tues Feb-07-2006

Regular Meeting
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2005

Regular Meeting – 10:00 a.m.

48. Supervisor Kelsey - Approve the One Voice Program Membership Contribution of $16,982 for FY 2005/2006 and approve the necessary budget transfer. APPROVED AS RECOMMENDED AYES: ALL

Editor,

The One Voice Delegation walks like a political action committee and talks like a political action committee, it collects political contributions from its members and expends those monies on political special interests like a political action committee, except the One Voice Delegation hasn’t registered with the state of California as a political action committee.

According to the minutes of the October 18th 2005 Board of Supervisors meeting (Item #48), the supervisors unanimously voted to transfer $16,982 from the general fund to the One Voice Delegation for expenses in the 2005/6 fiscal years. This lobbying is therefor being subsidized, directly by county residents through taxes!

That money should be clearly recorded and identifiable as to where that funding comes from and how and where it is being spent. An accounting of how those funds eventually return any appreciable benefit to the unwitting taxpayer should be traceable at the end of the process. Without an accurate audit trail these benefits will not be possible to determine.

This audit trail will not even exist if MCAG is allowed to continue expending county general fund revenues without formally declaring its political motivations and complying with the laws regulating those activities.

It would be appropriate and prudent for this group to document all of its donors and expenditures insofar as the lobbying activities outlined in the Sun Star article represent the “consensus” of a very small and select special interest group from among the diverse population of Merced County. Though brash in the scope of its ambition, the One Voice Delegation cannot possibly believe that it represents the consensus of Merced County as a whole.

The rules under which a political action committee must operate are necessarily more stringent than the requirements imposed by the leadership of the Merced County Association of Governments. There are good and logical reasons for this kind of official supervision not the least of which is to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest.

While I strongly defend any political groups right to lobby for a cause, I take great exception to them doing so with my tax dollars if I happen to disagree with either their philosophy or their stated agenda. I happen to disagree that this groups stated philosophy would be achieved by their stated agenda.

I see a request for money to build a bypass for Los Banos, and to widen Hwy 99 and to build the UC campus yellow brick road, and I wonder how do any of these projects or funding alleviate poverty, unemployment or traffic congestion, for the people who actually live in Merced County?

I see an effort to regain access to gasoline taxes for road maintenance at the county level, yet I see a county administration dedicated to urban sprawl. Why should the state build or upkeep roads in Merced so that more people can commute from the Valley to jobs in the Bay Area? For that matter, why does Merced county think building better freeways through the county will alleviate the surface traffic congestion throughout the county?

I am not saying that lobbying the state for funding is wrong, although it does clearly highlight how ‘welfare dependant’ the administration of this county actually is, I rather intend to point out that the One Voice Delegation’s is acting as a political action committee and must submit to the same standard and regulations as any other similar organization.

Ms. Steelman, one of the MCAG facilitators interviewed for the SunStar article is indeed charming and adroit at her job! Having participated directly in the MCAG’s previous program ‘Partners in Planning’ I am painfully aware of the process through which the facilitators are able to steer a disparate group of ‘pre-identified’ stakeholders, to a predetermined consensus. The whole process is chilling in its efficiency, imbued with an indomitable sense of self-preservation and when all is said and done demonstrates as little concern with the input of the stakeholder as an Australian shepherd has with the concerns of a lone sheep.

Bryant Owens- Plainsburg (209) 769-0832

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Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston

Submitted: Feb 07, 2006

From:

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

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

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550
(209) 769-0832

To:

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development
Merced County
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340

Jon LeVan
Local Agency Formation Commission
Merced County
2222 M Street 2nd Floor
Merced CA 95340

Board of Supervisors
Merced County
2222 M Street 3rd Floor
Merced CA 95340

Brandon Friesen
Mayor
1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the best of our knowledge, a Ms. Donna McKinney, possibly a consultant with the firm PMC, is acting as the director of Planning for the City of Livingston. Who is paying her salary? To whom does she report?

Another matter of concern is the fact that authorizing this sort of activity outside of an existing SUDP is a violation of the Subdivision Map Act. According to the documentation that has been inspected to date it appears as though the developer has requested pre-zoning for parcels within this 300-acre site, to which the 42-inch sewer main is to connect. This seems to be several steps premature for an annexation request. When will the public have an opportunity to comment on any identified significant environmental effects?

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- ChairmanPlanada Community Development Corporation

Cc: Interested Parties

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Who bulldozed the Torres farm labor camp and why?

Submitted: Feb 06, 2006

Felix Torres CEQA Scoping Request to Agencies
Feb. 6, 2006

From:

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

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
(209) 523-1391, ph. & fax
sburke5@sbcglobal.net
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada Community Development Corporation
(209) 769-0832
recall@mercednet.com
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550

To:

Robert Lewis Director
Merced County Planning and Economic Development
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 385-7654
via Fax (209) 726-1710

Board of Supervisors Merced County
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 385-7366
via Fax (209) 726-7977

Board of Commissioners
Housing Authority of Merced County
405 U Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 722-3501
Fax (209) 722-0106

Sunne Wright McPeak Secretary
Business, Transportation & Housing Agency
980 9th Street, Suite 2450
Sacramento, CA 95814-2719
Phone (916) 323-5400
Fax: 916-323-5440

Judy Nevis Director
Housing & Community Development
1800 Third Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone (916) 445-4775
Fax (916) 324-5107

Richard L. Friedman Acting Deputy Dir.
Division of Financial Assistance
Phone (916) 322-1560
Fax (916) 327-6660

Kim Dunbar Assistant Division Chief
Phone (916) 322-1560
Fax (916) 327-6660

Janet Marzolf, Section Chief

Asset Management & Compliance Section
Phone (916) 327-2896
Fax (916) 327-6660

Patrick Dyas Program Manager
Office of Migrant Services
Phone (916) 327-0942
Fax (916) 327-6660

Monday, February 06, 2006

Re: CEQA review of proposed new migrant housing in Planada (Merced County), Scope of Project, Analysis of alternatives to project, irregularity in NEPA analysis of environmental impacts; project incompatibility with current County General Plan; misappropriation of federal funding for migrant housing to construct low-income housing. Environmental Justice Abuse.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are greatly dissatisfied with and concerned over the actions of the Housing Authority of Merced, especially concerning the demolition of the Felix Torres Migrant Camp, and a documented agreement made with certain Merced county officials by Housing Authority Executive Director, Nick Benjamin in which the County of Merced purportedly required Housing Authority to relocate Planada Village in collaboration with SUDP zoning changes proposed by the County of Merced during the environmental review of Planada’s Community Specific Plan Update (Dec 2003).

As you all may certainly verify, the funding for the proposed renovation of the Felix Torres Camp, and funding for the demolition and replacement of Planada Village (asbestos) was individually encumbered in two separate OMS grant in year 2003. There was also a third grant awarded to the Housing Authority bringing the aggregated total for renovation of Planada Migrant camps to just over $10 million dollars.

Planada citizens were delighted with the concept of renovation of the existing camps, but were solidly in opposition to the idea of moving either camp further away from the community. .

The decision to combine these grants into a single ‘project’ seems to have been solely at the discretion of Mr. Nick Benjamin. [1] No satisfactory explanation was ever given to date as to why the Felix Torres camp could not be rebuilt on its original site. It is clear that Department of Housing and Community Development owns the structures of the Planada Village Camp and contracts with Housing Authority of Merced for the maintenance thereof, and it is also clear the Housing Authority owns the land, and both parcels were and are still zoned for the use of Migrant Housing.

Our contention is that CEQA review should have begun at that point at which Mr. Benjamin decided to move the existing camps to new locations, back in 2003. As a semi-autonomous State Agency, Housing Authority has lead agency status with regard to NEPA review of this proposed project, however, that autonomy does not supercede land use authority in Merced County when a proposed project requires a zoning change, or as in this case, a conditional use permit. (Migrant Housing is not an automatically granted land use on land zoned A-1 Agricultural, there are specific requirements of the County General Plan that must be met and approved, and that process requires public review and opportunity to comment under CEQA).

Mr. Benjamin’s decision to relocate the camp(s), was facilitated by the Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing (a non-profit organization formed by the Housing Authority of Merced in 1987), which secured a loan from (or through) Housing Authority to purchase alternate land for the construction of a proposed ‘combined’ migrant and year round camp.

Mr. Nick Benjamin at that time was both the Executive Director of Housing Authority, and the Secretary of Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing and it is believed that he had full authority to act on behalf of both organization’s boards with regard to the procurement of the specific 24-acre parcel on Gerard Avenue (the originally intended location to which Felix Torres camp was to be moved).

Public outcry and written opposition to the change in location of Felix Torres Camp presented to the County Board of Supervisors, stalled the project and lead to an elaborate ‘shell game’ of deed transfers and money laundering that culminated in Jan. with the recording of the sale of that parcel to Merced County C.E.O. Demetrios Tatum and his wife. This land sale and all its intermediary steps are currently under the investigation of the Merced County Grand Jury.

Mr. Benjamin is a person who wears many hats in Merced County. Beside those previously mentioned, he also holds a position on the board of the Community Action Agency (a quasi-governmental non-profit agency whose funding, such as Community Development Block grants, is directly controlled by the Merced County Board of Supervisors). Mr. Benjamin also sits on the Workforce Investment Board, (established by statute in 2001 and whose members are appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors).

Mr. Benjamin has collaborated extensively with Mr. Rudy Buendia, the director of FirmBuild, (a non-profit corporation involved with other projects in Planada such as the Bear Creek Village) for many years. Mr. Buendia currently is appointed as a Commissioner of the Housing Authority of Merced’s Board of Commissioners (appointed by the District Supervisor for district 1 which includes Planada.) Mr. Buendia also hold an appointed position on the Merced County Planning Commission as a Commissioner (also appointed by the District 1 Supervisor)

Mr. Buendia seems to be in the enviable position of sitting as a voting member of the ‘lead agency’ for the NEPA approval of the proposed new Felix Torres Project, and as an advisor to the ‘lead agency’ for the CEQA review of this same project. Additionally FirmBuild may be involved in the eventual reconstruction of the Felix Torres Camp. Consequently the public has no clear or speedy means of determining whether or not any other inappropriate financial aggrandizement may occur through the eventual release of these encumbered OMS grant funds.

The normal checks and balances, which would preclude such conflicts of interest, are demonstrably absent in a rural setting such as Merced County where one person can wear so many hats simultaneously.

There seems to be a great deal of overlap in the funding streams coming into Merced County through the Department of Financial Assistance of the Department of Housing and Community Development. It is clear to these commentators that the restrictions on the beneficiaries of grant funding through specific programs such as Joseph C. Serna Farmworker housing (which represents about one third of the grant funding for this proposed project) may be effectively circumvented under the aegis of Mr. Benjamin’s proposal.

The Predevelopment Loan Program used to demolish the Felix Torres Camp may have been used in violation of CEQA in that no environmental review was even contemplated for that aspect of the project until during the actual demolition when the commentators did a site inspection and discovered evidence of endangered and/or protected species on site, and brought such information to the attention of Housing Authority. The public will never know whether or not there was illegal ‘take’ of endangered/protected species during the demolition of the Felix Torres Camp buildings, but what is clear from written communications with the Housing Authority is their stated contention was that the contractor would have been liable for the illegal ‘take’.

This demonstrably limited understanding of the Housing Authority’s responsibility for complying with the laws of the State of California and those of the United States does not inspire confidence that this project is proceeding according to established standards of environmental review.

Having brought this situation to the attention of the grantors, it should not remain incumbent upon the public to force an internal audit of this morass; it would seem incumbent on the director of the Department of Financial Assistance or his superiors to follow up on a complaint such as this.

We clearly see and understand the financial incentive Housing Authority has in cooperating with the parties financially interested in securing the zoning changes proposed in the 2003 Planada Community Plan Update; the Planada Village was to be replaced with a zone for commercial development along Hwy 140, and the Felix Torres Camp is directly adjacent to a riparian waterway (Miles Creek) and is being actively sought for the residential development capabilities afforded by the proposed change to low density residential zoning.

Both parcels would appreciate multiple orders of magnitude in value and would represent an irresistible temptation to seek less valuable real estate on which to build replacement migrant housing with the already encumbered grant funding.

While we can appreciate the considerable potential financial benefit of this collaboration to Housing Authority, we can also clearly see conflicts with other applicable land use authorities of the State of California including tenets of the Cortese-Knox- Hertzberg Act of 2000, as it would apply to the provision of municipal services outside of an established SUDP; specific proscriptions under CEQA disallowing a public entity to select a preferred alternative based solely upon the affordability of the land in question; the ongoing environmental injustice being inflicted upon the displaced population; not to mention the near impossibility of evaluating the compliance of this proposed project or any like it with the hopelessly outdated Merced County General Plan.

The community has already suffered the deprivation of the 88 Felix Torres Camp units and has born for three years the added congestion of accommodating those returning migrants in the sparsely available low and very low-income housing. The local economy has suffered commensurately lack of workforce during crucial times of harvest during the last three years.

The public was informed by Housing Authority representatives that the decision to close and demolish Felix Torres Camp was a directive of the State of California, and under the Public Records Act we wish to inspect any written document corroborating that assertion, if such could be identified in the files of any of the above parties to whom this letter is addressed. It is our belief that the decision to close and then demolish Felix Torres Camp was rather retaliatory and punitive of the public who voiced opposition to the political and residential development interests who were clearly the intended beneficiaries of this collaboration.

The citizens of Planada participated in the federal NEPA review of this proposed project. Written comments regarding the draft EA (Environmental Assessment) have not been acknowledged or answered and the Housing Authority acting as its own lead agency has approved their NEPA review. We attach a copy[2] of the submitted comments to assist you in determining whether substantive information has been overlooked in the EA by the ‘Lead Agency’(Housing Authority of Merced County).

Irrespective of the relative weight given to public comment during the NEPA environmental review process, the Housing Authority has now contacted the Merced County Planning Department seeking CEQA review and approval of this disputed project.

CEQA requires that the Lead Agency (Merced County) examine all feasible alternatives to the proposed project, and that the scope of that analysis include all issues identified in the earliest initial study, including, in particular, the intent of the original funding source, and the setting in which those particular funds were encumbered. By completing the NEPA analysis of this project independently from the CEQA review, the Housing Authority has sought to limit the analysis of the environmental impact solely to their preferred alternative. This is both subtle and inappropriate.

Plaintiffs who sued Merced County over the inadequacy of the 2003 Planada Community Plan on behalf of those migrants displaced by the actions of the Housing Authority (closing the Felix Torres Camp in 2003 and demolishing it in 2005) have not abandoned their suit. In fact that suit is currently in 5th Appellate Court in Fresno.

Merced County’s recently disclosed plans to radically expand the SUDP boundary of Planada as part of a County General Plan Update, seek to circumvent and moot the efforts of the appellants.

There is clearly a nexus of growth pressures, lack of sewer capacity, declining economic opportunity, and poverty in Planada that demand a comprehensive environmental analysis. The migrant housing to be built with this funding (encumbered since 2003) is certainly a seminal component of Planada’s housing supply, and crucial in that it will be supportive of the actual agricultural labor force indigenous to the community.

Unfortunately, though, it has come to light that the Housing Authority has no intention of limiting residents of the proposed new Felix Torres Camp to farm workers and their dependents. The overarching intent of providing low-income housing in Merced County on which so many other government subsidized funding streams reaching Merced County tend to depend, would seem to provide an incentive for County Planning to limit the CEQA review of this project. We hope this scrutiny will persuade Housing Authority Executive Director Nick Benjamin and County Planning to honor the actual legislative intent of the OMS grant funding. We wish to somehow ensure that the proposed housing is actually going to replace both the structures and the context that were demolished at the original Felix Torres site. The conclusions presented to the public in the Housing Authority’s draft EA do not inspire confidence that the public’s expectations for this project will be realized.

It seems clear that more specific guidance from the State Agency with direct control over the expenditure of these funds is necessary. Without intending to jeopardize the funding for migrant housing in Planada, may we suggest that Housing Authority is within their authority to rebuild the Felix Torres Camp on its original site, and can do so without abusing Merced County’s land use authority or the public’s trust.

If, as we believe the County of Merced is the land use authority and Lead Agency for the CEQA review of the Housing Authority proposed project on newly acquired property, then we request and require that the Scope of this project be broadened to include the original site of the Felix Torres Camp and all of the previous public involvement and comment on this proposal.

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller – President Steve Burke,

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- Chairman

Planada Community Development Co.

Attachment: Draft EA Comments-2005

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

[1] Housing Authority Board of Commissioner minutes

[2] Comments on Draft Environmental Assessment 2005

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Wobbly three-legged stool

Submitted: Jan 20, 2006

The three-legged stool

Viewed from an ecological perspective, rooted in the environment of the San Joaquin Valley of California, politically affairs this week seem to be perched on a very wobbly three-legged stool.

The short, skinny leg

When (funded) “value-free facilitators” begin showing up in your community, it is probably time to count the silverware or, from an ecological perspective, inventory the environmental quality of your neighborhood. We have an area called “South” Merced, where, traditionally, minority groups have lived south of the tracks and the highway. Through the years, the city has done a pretty decent job of hustling federal funds to repair and restore old single-family houses and build some multi-family apartment complexes. The county housing authority is located there. However, the area has almost no business, at least business useful to the residents, like a decent shopping center with a supermarket. In recent months, the city has proposed the development of a specific urban development plan for the neighborhood, appointed a citizen’s advisory commission and has engaging consultants to draw up a land-use plan.

What the area needs is development that pays its way for the schools it overcrowds, a decent shopping center with a supermarket, and more employment. A dark thought is that it will the area in which the city will fulfill its low-income housing quotient required to keep its general plan correct. Several new low-income complexes have already been built and more are already in the planning pipeline.

“We’re just glad to be here to facilitate this process,” said the value-free facilitator with a Crash Davis (“Bull Durham”) grasp of cliché, before a group of about 40 at a meeting two weeks ago. A number in the audience were government officials, including three city council members (including the mayor) and two supervisors. A city planner led a significant portion of the meeting.

An elderly resident complained about the governing vocabulary. “My tax bill doesn’t tell me I live in North or South Merced,” she said. “It says Merced. All we want is to have the same facilities throughout Merced.” She described 24 empty streetlights on her street. Later, an officious city councilman told the group those streetlights were in the county, not the city, so the city wasn’t responsible.

“There is something ignorant about this whole thing,” the resident commented. “Let’s use our intelligence and forget this North/South Merced.”

The value-free facilitator and the city planner went right on calling it South Merced, referring to my neighborhood as “Middle Merced.” North Merced is where the growth, induced by the arrival of UC Merced, is rapidly doubling the size of the city.

One of the neighborhood’s present dilemmas is what to do with Carl Pollard, an African-American resident of the neighborhood who, after losing six campaigns for the city council, was recently appointed to it. Less than a month after the appointment, he was charged with driving a car without insurance, with an open container of alcohol and some amount of marijuana in it. He has been fired from his realtor job. If convicted, presumably he would lose his council seat. Pollard led an invocation at the beginning of the meeting.

There are better people than Pollard, a political accident that has happened, trying to work for a decent level of services (at least one supermarket south of the tracks, for example), as development that does not pay its way rages to the north and more “low-income” housing development – horribly impacting schools in the south – is planned for the neighborhood. Perhaps, if they organize themselves, beginning by believing almost nothing of what city and county officials tell them, they will have a prayer the Rev. Pollard shall not lead.

“Value-free community organizing” facilitated from the top down by University of California personnel is illusory. What has worked in a modest way in the neighborhood has been volunteer crime watches that have existed for years. What will make things more miserable is crowding in more low-income residents to satisfy regional low-income housing mandates into an area with a chronically low level of services and usable commercial enterprises.

The fat, middle leg

A year ago, the Sacramento Bee did a series of articles exposing a classic situation of corporate power in diary processing. Hilmar Cheese had been polluting surface and groundwater near its site for years. The San Joaquin Regional Water Quality Control Board had been effectively bought off by the corporation. Publicly embarrassed, the board levied a $4-million fine against Hilmar.

After the state Water Resources Board in November refused Hilmar Cheese’s proposal to pay a fraction of the fine the regional water quality board had levied against it for polluting its area with huge quantities of wastewater, the federal EPA approved a test deep-injection well this week. Presumably, if the engineers on this project are more skillful than on the plant’s last techno-fix, the test will be successful, paving the way for injection of Hilmar Cheese’s 2-to-3 million gallons a day of waste water more than 3,000 feet below the Valley surface.

Meanwhile Hilmar’s corporate lawyers and water board lawyers continue to negotiate a settlement of the fine. The board should hear a new proposal by March, Catherine George, water board attorney, said today.

Vance Kennedy, a retired hydrologist from Modesto, told me yesterday it was as “done deal:” EPA has the power to override the state water board’s decision, on the grounds that deep injection is out of the state board’s jurisdiction over surface and ground water.” George confirmed Kennedy’s report.

“Ground water” refers to the aquifers several hundred feet down from which well water is drawn for domestic and agricultural use.

Kennedy said the EPA is using the analogy of water injection into oil and gas wells to force the products to the surface from beneath impenetrable layers. Hilmar, he said, is supposed to have a 100-foot thick layer of shale deep down, presumably impermeable.

He repeated the point he made in several hearings on the project: that water is incompressible and will move laterally, for miles, until it begins to push salty water up into groundwater aquifers lying above “impenetrable” layers.

“The sad thing is that salty water elsewhere may not show up for years or decades,” he said. He added it might not ever be possible to trace salt-water intrusion into wells back to the lateral pressure caused by Hilmar’s deep injection system.

Worse, Kennedy said, it’s a precedent for the San Joaquin Valley. Every wastewater facility from Redding to Bakersfield will be looking at this technology. EPA approved a number of wastewater deep-injection wells in Florida, providing another decade of rapid growth. The Sierra Club sued in February 2005, citing massive ecological damage. Kennedy said he’d been told Miami effluent has been traced as far away as Bermuda.

This middle leg is overweening corporate power to dominate surrounding communities and destroy their environments. Merced, the second largest dairy county in the nation, is afflicted with Big Dairy, an extremely powerful lobby from county to country devoted to the propositions: Bigger and More. The best comment I’ve heard on the economic philosophy of Big Dairy was from a small dairyman who said: when someday milk is so over-produced it isn’t worth a penny, some dairyman will say it’s a good day to buy cows.

The Hilmar Cheese deal reveals a tendency in our economy toward outright corporate ownership of government. In the lexicon of American politics exists the phrase, which covers the situation so well a book about the political career of a former Merced congressman, Tony Coelho, is titled, “Honest Graft.”

This sort of corruption tends to spiral out of control, as in the present case of the Abramoff affair. Some economists argue that eventually, the power of special interests devours the nation’s substance for the gains of very few, if gigantic firms. In the case of US transnational corporations, the approach has been to cause deep structural unemployment of domestic industrial workers and devour other nations’ substance at very low wages. The process is well advanced in the US, particularly in California, where the state budget is beginning to resemble the budget of Third World nations like Argentina and Chile, raped by utility and development corporations and thrown into the tender claws of Wall Street for the foreseeable future.

The impact of the EPA decision may go far beyond Hilmar.

The housing development industry is a radical example of the domination of sheer financial interest over the construction of subdivisions containing rows of three or four “housing products.” Everything about the structure of this “industry,” from the elaborate system of subcontracting to the pittance the state requires it pay for the schools it overcrowds, is designed to protect the developer investor from any public liability. In employs mobs of illegal aliens, heretofore always called “unskilled farmworkers,” to do highly skilled construction work for well below union wages. It has bought wholesale political and legal attacks on state and federal environmental law. It is pricing out farmers on agricultural land while making large rural landowners who sell for development rich. Development in states like California and Florida has made a mockery of any concept of urban planning.

If the deep-injection fix takes off in the Central Valley, residents and farmers will be the losers but the corporations will be the winners in the near term, which is their only time frame. Meanwhile, laws that haven’t already been written will be written to limit or exempt them from liability. But, one might object, wastewater facilities likely to jump on this fix are public entities. They are public entities driven every step of the way into surface and groundwater pollution by private development corporations. The system to protect the genuinely public interest is broken, corrupted, for sale, less and less often these days with even a pretence of being other than for sale. Growing numbers of rightwing politicians aggressively promote the ideology that public policy ought to be for sale to the highest bidder. Up and down the ranks of the Republican Party, this is considered to be “the hard, right decision.”

The local glaring, daily example is the loss of rights of existing residents of a region to the same quality of life they had before a UC campus was located in their county and development took off, running roughshod over law, regulation and resources. Against the local land-use authorities’ power to reject projects under the California Environmental Quality Act is the constant drum of developer propaganda: “Growth is inevitable.” You hear it on street corners out of the mouths of people who were once citizens but now passively accept the role of being mere subjects of alien, hostile government. It makes you wonder what else could have been done with all the money it took to convince Californians of this suicidal proposition that has, in 30 years, distorted this state out of all self-recognition, that has replaced, for private gain, a state composed of cities, towns, communities with abundant natural resources and rural economies of hope, with a slurbocracy of mere subjects.

Hilmar Cheese, “largest cheese plant in the world,” is using demonstrably bad Florida technology because its industry largely owns its regulators. Not that the EPA needed much encouragement to worsen the environment of the San Joaquin Valley. Its present administrator started his scientific career at Litton Bionetics, one of the nation’s leading developers of chemical and biological weapons: he is the perfect Bush fox for the EPA henhouse.

But, in our terribly contemporary political culture here in the 18th Congressional District, in Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, we have the epitome of the emerging one-party state, under the relentless pressure of special interest corruption. Cardoza is referred to locally simply as the south end of O Pomboza, the northern end being Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. Pombo is an exemplary modern American fascist, complete with his corruption problems linked to Abramoff, who he denies knowing, and his strong penchant for breaking laws he can’t change, like the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA decision leaves people to believe – and they are definitely meant to believe – they are powerless to stop this level of pollution, corporate irresponsibility and corruption, because the corporations, the Pomboza and the regulating agencies don’t give a damn about the people and believe they exist to do the bidding of the least responsible whim of the corporations who effectively own their own regulating agencies. Some political theorists call this form of government corporatist and describe it as a precursor to fascism. We will content ourselves with the homey old American expression, “honest graft,” well established in government during the McKinley administration, apparently the guide to all domestic politics in the W. administration.

There are residual American political tactics against such corruption. People concerned about this well and its implications for the future of groundwater in the Central Valley ought to consider starting a national boycott against Hilmar Cheese products. A boycott has the old-fashioned charm of asserting the dignity of human communities in the face of inhuman corporate power. People might find it a refreshing diversion from being oppressed and depressed by decisions affecting their lives over which they have no control.

The long, weird leg

A preface is required to begin to describe the last leg of the current stool. I’ve chosen a passage from Douglas Dowd’s book on Thorstein Veblen, an American economist who wrote this during the McKinley administration, at the turn of the 20th century:

“Business interests urge an aggressive national policy and businessmen direct it. Such a policy is warlike as well as patriotic. The direct cultural value of a warlike business policy is unequivocal. It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, and within the military organization at all times, under martial law, civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance … a military organization is a servile organization. Insubordination is the deadly sin. (The Theory of Business Enterprise, Thorstein Veblen, 1904, p. 391)

What is true of those directly involved in the military applies also to the civilian population in significant degree:

“They learn to think in warlike terms of rank, authority, and subordination, and so grow progressively more patient of encroachments upon their civil rights … At the same stroke they (patriotic ideals) direct the popular interest to other, nobler institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comfort. (Ibid. p. 393)

But for those who might see this as a triumph of business enterprise over the threat of social change led by workers, it is turned by Veblen into a hollow triumph. For, if the discipline and values of the warlike and patriotic society may “correct” the institutionally disintegrative trend of the machine process, it is just as probable that, for the same reasons there would be “a rehabilitation of the ancient patriotic animosity and dynastic loyalty, to the relative neglect of business interests. This may easily be carried so far as to sacrifice the profits of the businessman to the exigencies of the higher politics (Ibid. 395).

Thus, Veblen sees the system of business enterprise caught in a terrible historical dilemma: If, to offset the institutional and threatening imperative of industrialism, it encourages, or acquiesces in, developments that will cause social unrest to “sink in the broad sands of patriotism,” it is faced with the equal probability that what is quicksand for one will sooner or later pull down the other.

The last paragraph of the Theory might be Veblen’s epitaph for the system of business enterprise:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either. (Ibid. p. 400)

(Thus, in the late 1930s, German industrialists who had supported Nazism as a “corrective discipline” for the political and economic troubles of the early 1930’s found themselves increasingly harassed by regulation, taxation, and general interference in their affairs by Nazi Party and Wehrmacht functionaries.) – Thorstein Veblen, by Douglas Dowd, 1964, pp. 52-53.

In our suddenly radical contemporary experience in Merced, we now host UC, a university whose two national laboratories of mass destruction are now competing for the design award for new nuclear weapons. Therefore, we must ask, for what end, the Cold War having ended some years ago? Our current, neo-McKinley imperial administration cum dynastic, monarchal pretensions, aims at nothing less than world domination. Like the Nazis, the neocons didn’t come to power just to regulate, tax and interfere with business. They came with a plan for world domination. Read all about it at the Project for the New American Century (http://www.newamericancentury.org).

The details of the vision really don’t matter nearly as much as the absurd fact of the vision itself “for the spread of American ideals.” For the neocons, the vision is the only fact that matters. One observes the tendency daily in the president. In fact, as opposed to vision, America cannot even fight successfully in two war theaters, let alone the many anticipated by the PNAC. And their he-man, Ariel Sharon, is in a coma.

On the other hand, they have our UC to build new nuclear weapons.

The fat leg should be called by its name: totalitarian ambition. It has not happened yet. The Alito confirmation hearing was held up for a week. Investigations of scandals mount. The drums for impeachment tap, if inaudibly to the ears of American subjects. However, “yet” is a highly ambiguous term in such a moment, because, although we are aware of the velocity of change, we aren’t able to measure it accurately, in large part for lack of honest media. The totalitarian ambition has been an old dream of American industrialists and financiers, evident to Veblen in 1904, far more overt before the two world wars, and the Bush family has been heavily involved in it since before WWI.

The only question of any importance today is whether the American people have the intelligence to see it and the energy left, in this rapidly decaying economy, to resist it, particularly without an effective opposition political party. Appeals to the ideals of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights fall on largely deaf ears. The fundamental right for which American subjects of the British crown fought was the right of political participation. After a century of fraudulent commercial advertising and government propaganda, is there enough citizenship left in the subject population to resist the neocon plan to make the Mideast safe for Israel, US oil companies, conduct an eternal Indian War against Arabs, and subject the US population to enough terror so that it doesn’t notice the absurdity of the neocon vision and the destruction of both the domestic economy and its environment.

The question is important, however, as a preliminary to the larger, more dangerous problem of how we confront global warming and lesser forms of environmental destruction. We haven’t a prayer of avoiding the global tipping point without strong state regulation of corporate environmental destruction. It also leads one to wonder just how many UC-built nuclear bomb blasts it would take to tip the planet over the edge. It is hard to imagine anything more destructive to the environment than a nuclear bomb. But, UC Merced is an environmentally conscious campus.

And they ask why the public mind is boggled so often these days.

Veblen’s prognosis for American business is a useful anchor:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either.” (Ibid. p. 400)

“Full domination” has been achieved all too successfully. The rule of law is rapidly crumbling before this full domination. Law was the arena in which the divergent tendencies met and argued. Without law effectively protecting the rights of citizens, the United States of America ceases to be itself and the voice of reason is drowned by the screaming antinomy between privileged and desperate subjects in a rapidly deteriorating environment. The reasonable solution would appear to be something less than “full domination of business enterprise,” beginning with regulatory agencies that are permitted to perform their necessary public function, uninfluenced by either political pressure or foxes in henhouses. The political irony is that business enterprise would have to call for a rapid, perhaps radical reduction of its domination in order to save the system of government that nurtured its rise to power. That would require an act of reason probably beyond the capacity of corporate attitudes today and equally beyond the capacities of its bought and sold political class. The real road to Hell has been paved with done deals between special interests and government.

But that’s just how things look from the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in California.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution

Douglas Dowd: Thorstein Veblen

Hilmar Cheese Permitted to Drill Test Well
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11676192p-12403995c.html

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

Brooks Jackson, Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process

Upgrades planned for U.S. nuclear stockpile. Agency leader expects significant warhead redesigns...James Sterngold
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/15/MNGTTGNL5P1.DTL&type=printable

Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

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California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit in Sacramento

Submitted: Jan 14, 2006

Central Valley and Foothills cattlemen, conservationists, and state and federal resource agency officials held a historic summit Jan. 11 in Sacramento. The all-day conference was called to develop a broad action plan to implement the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Resolution, a statement of joint goals reached last year.

"Today we have embarked upon a historic partnership to preserve and enhance California's working landscapes," said California Cattlemen's Association President Mark Nelson. "The California Rangeland Resolution serves as the foundation of an extraordinary partnership between ranchers, environmentalists and governmental agencies ... Our CCA members have a unique standing with respect to the conservation of our state's rangelands, given that ranchers own and/or manage over 30 million acres in California. Given the sheer volume of property managed by ranchers, and the well-documented preference by imperiled species for these properties, it is clear that meaningful species recovery or conservation efforts require the voluntary cooperation of landowners. Put another way, the protection of our state's most valuable natural resources is highly dependent on working partnerships between conservation interests and landowners."

John Hopkins, director of Institute for Ecological Health, said, "The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an exciting and important new venture. The conservation organizations that are signatories to the Coalition's Resolution are very pleased to be working closely with agricultural organizations and a wide array of state and federal agencies in crafting and implementing the important goals of the Resolution.

"Private owned grasslands and oak woodlands around the Central Valley and its surrounding foothills support a stunning variety and abundance of native wildlife and plants. Maintaining the private ranches and their economic viability is essential for the conservation of these critically important natural habitats and their native species.

"This Coalition provides a major opportunity to achieve widespread conservation of rangeland, to aid stewardship and help maintain ranching as a viable way of life. These are steps that are necessary to maintain the many large tracts of grasslands and oak woodlands that are vital to the future of our state's wildlife. For example, vernal pool grasslands possess a rich array of endangered and threatened animals and plants that are found nowhere else in the world. The grasslands are home to the highest diversity and density of wintering birds of prey in North America. Oak woodlands are essential for hundreds of vertebrate species."

Hopkins added that, "Two key areas for future action are the 2007 federal Farm Bill and possibilities for additional funds for rangeland conservation in state bond measures." He said that the CCA and the state Farm Bureau have good relations with members of the House and Senate agriculture committees, while environmentalists have good relations with more urban members of Congress. The Coalition, putting "teams of cowboys and environmentalists in Congressional and legislative offices is very politically effective, he said. "Jaws can drop."

Paul Henson, assistant regional director of the California-Nevada US Fish and Wildlife Service office, pledged to add staff to help qualify ranchers for safe harbor agreements. In these agreements, developed in 1999, the Service will issue a permit to ranches to "enhance the propagation or survival" of an endangered or threatened species, once the Service is satisfied that actions undertaken by the landowner produce a "net conservation benefit" to the species.

Bill Chrisman, Director of the state Department of Resources, promised the members of the Coalition that the state would work on ways to streamline environmental regulations to provide certainty in a timely manner, possibly involving changes to the California
Environmental Quality Act.

Ryan Broderick, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, told the Coalition that the large blocks of land held by Valley and Foothills ranchers are "the key" to conservation of endangered and threatened species of animals and plants. In response to a question from Dan Macon, director of the Nevada County Land Trust, Broderick agreed that the future will see more public/private partnerships for the effective management of publicly held land. The CDFG now has tenant farming agreements that are both economical and good stewardship of the land. "The Department of Fish and Game does a lot of farming,” Broderick added.

California benefits less relative to its size and the value of its agricultural output from the federal Farm Bill than the Midwestern grain states do, said Michael Bean, attorney and chair of the Wildlife program for Environmental Defense, a national environmental advocacy organization. California ranchers benefit even less. The Coalition of California ranchers and environmentalists working together, presenting a unified voice before Congress, could yield better federal funding for California ranching.

Henson, (USFWS) added that the resource agencies agree that rangelands need to stay in ranching and that they need to help ranchers stay on the land by "removing regulatory disincentives and getting more funding for conservation easements."

"We have come together as one and must continue to strengthen our bond, CCA President Nelson concluded his address. "We must not let the opportunities presented by this partnership pass us by, and we look forward to transforming the targets defined earlier today into real-world, on-the-ground successes."

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition came to life through the following resolution:

The California Rangeland Resolution

The undersigned recognize the critical importance of California’s privately owned rangelands, particularly that significant portion that encircles the Central Valley and includes the adjacent grasslands and oak woodlands, including the Sierra foothills and the interior coast ranges. These lands support important ecosystems and are the foundation for the ranching industry that owns them.

WHEREAS, these rangelands include a rich and varied landscape of grasslands, oak woodlands, vernal pools, riparian areas and wetlands, which support numerous imperiled species, many native plants once common in the Central Valley, and are home to the highest diversity and density of wintering raptors anywhere in North America;

WHEREAS, these rangelands are often located in California’s fastest-growing counties and are at significant risk of conversion to development and other uses;

WHEREAS, these rangelands, and the species that rely on these habitats, largely persist today due to the positive and experienced grazing and other land stewardship practices of the ranchers that have owned and managed these lands and are committed to a healthy future for their working landscapes;

WHEREAS, these rangelands are a critical foundation of the economic and social fabric of California’s ranching industry and rural communities, and will only continue to provide this important working landscape for California’s plants, fish and wildlife if private rangelands remain in ranching;

THEREFORE, we declare that it is our goal to collaboratively work together to protect and enhance the rangeland landscape that encircles California’s Central Valley and includes adjacent grasslands and oak woodlands by:

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

Working to recover imperiled species and enhancing habitat on rangelands while seeking to minimize regulations on private lands and streamline processes;

Supporting the long-term viability of the ranching industry and its culture by providing economic, social and other incentives and by reducing burdens to proactive stewardship on private ranchlands;

Increasing private, state and federal funding, technical expertise and other assistance to continue and expand the ranching community’s beneficial land stewardship practices that benefit sensitive species and are fully compatible with normal ranching practices;

Encouraging voluntary, collaborative and locally-led conservation that has proven to be very effective in maintaining and enhancing working landscapes;

Educating the public about the benefits of grazing and ranching in these rangelands.

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD

Alameda County Board of Supervisors

American Land Conservancy

California Cattlemen’s Association

California Resources Agency

California Wildlife Foundation

Central Valley Land Trust Council

Bureau Land Management

Defenders of Wildlife

Butte Environmental Council

Environmental Defense

California Audubon Society

Institute for Ecological Health

California Cattlemen’s Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service

California Dept of Fish and Game

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

California Dept of Food and Ag

San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

California Farm Bureau Federation

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

California Native Grasslands Association

The Nature Conservancy

California Native Plant Society

Trust for Public Land

California Oak Foundation

US Fish and Wildlife Service

California Rangeland Trust

US Forest Service

California Resource Conservation Districts

VernalPools.org

Wildlife Conservation Board

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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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