People with passion and people who babble about it

Submitted: Jul 03, 2007
Mr. Carter will give us the BIG picture on the Merced River - where it comes from and where it goes - as well as the importance of the river to our communities. Lloyd Carter is very knowledgeable about water issues and will also be speaking at the later in the day...Lloyd Carter continues his exploration of water and river issues in the San Joaquin Valley context. 1.5 hour talk at Heartland Festival/River Fair, Riverdance Farm, 2007.

At the public meeting of the East Merced Resources Conservation District on June 20, held at the Golden Bi-Product Tire Recycling Co. offices, Glenn Anderson, a district director, made an interesting comment about a speaker at the recent Heartland Festival/River Fair, held at the farm of another director, Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook. The EMRCD was the main sponsor of the River Fair.

Anderson described Lloyd Carter, the best natural resources journalist the San Joaquin Valley has ever had, as "not positive or forward-looking." Anderson, not really attending the speech but overhearing it while waiting for a ride to another part of the farm, said Carter sounded like he was on a "rant."

Lashbrook noted that Carter's talk was the best attended of the day, and that a little controversy is OK. The term she used was a "pepper of controversy." Perhaps a small slice of jalapeno in a salad of old green jeans in what she meant. One is never sure.

These are the sort of people who use the word "passion" like the T shirt they bought at their last workshop on "organics and global warming."

Lloyd Carter's passion for the truth about agribusiness, subsidized water, the death of the San Joaquin River, the wildlife tragedy of the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge and in Boswell's Tulare Lake, selenium and other heavy metals, crooked Valley politicians, state and federal water policy and US Fish and Wildlife Service whistleblowers was stronger than his desire for a steady job in the newspaper business. And so he does something else now for a living instead of the journalism at which he excelled magnificently, and we only get to read him rarely in opinion pieces and letters to the editor, mostly in the Fresno Bee.

Researching an article on another topic that Carter knows a lot about, we found this following piece written by him in 1999 for a national audience. Readers will learn and enjoy this fine writer on the beat he has paid dearly to cover because, unlike the T-shirt passion set, Lloyd Carter speaks the truth to the most powerful people in our Valley -- with real passion.

Badlands editorial staff

The destruction of the American West -- starring big agribusiness and the government that supports it
By L. G. Carter
Penthouse Magazine, January 1999
Reprinted without permission

Way out West the big farmers fly Lear jets, have private airstrips on gargantuan factory farms, control politicians in both major parties, and harvest barrelfuls of taxpayer subsidy money. They also dry up rivers, pollute aquifers, and conscript an army of Third World families to bring in the crops at below-povertyline wages. Grotesque deformities in ducks and geese, poisoned national wildlife refuges, massive fish kills, and pesticide-sprayed fields littered with thousands of dead birds are common, and unpunished, depredations in California's agricultural heartland, despite numerous state and federal wildlife-protection laws.

Meanwhile, the small farmers, whom Thomas Jefferson called the backbone of democracy, continue to disappear from the American landscape at a rate of more than 100,000 a year as a result of governmental and banking policies and the greed of food processors and exporters.

By 1989 only 1.9 percent of Americans lived on farms (compared to 90 percent in 1900), and the 1989 figure is misleading at that because the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists as a "farm" anyplace selling as little as $1,000 worth of agricultural products.

The capital of America's Agropolis is California's San Joaquin Valley, a cornucopia of more than 200 crops that generates $14 billion a year in gross farm income. And the uncrowned king of Agropolis is J. G. Boswell II, a reclusive, unassuming man who calls himself a simple cowboy. In fact he grows more cotton than any other individual in the world. No one knows how rich he is, but his power is vividly illustrated by some of his "accomplishments" during the past half century:

Along with a handful of other big growers, he got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (funded, of course, by the American taxpayer) to build four "flood control" dams on rivers flowing out of the Sierra Nevada so Boswell et al. could safely farm the bottom of what was once the biggest body of water west of the Mississippi River, the legendary Tulare Lake. Boswell now controls rights to public water that could well be worth nearly $1 billion. His property in California alone is estimated at 250,000 acres.
When big-rainfall winters reflood the old Tulare Lake Basin, Boswell collects millions of dollars in federal subsidies for not growing crops on the bottom of a natural lake bed.
Boswell persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to let the richest grower with the most land in a California water district--namely, himself--control district water policy, creating what Justice William 0. Douglas called a "corporate kingdom undreamed of by those who wrote our Constitution."
Boswell got his lawyers to set up a trust for his employees in 1989 to evade federal acreage limitations for cheap federal irrigation supplies in the Westlands Water District, reaping an extra $2 million a year in water subsidies, according to a General Accounting Office study.
In 1982 Boswell was instrumental in blocking a "peripheral canal" to shunt fresh northern California water around the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region in order to retain possible future access to north-coast California rivers.
As the U.S. Justice Department looks the other way, his 3,000-acre Tulare Basin evaporation ponds for toxic farm drainage water are triggering deformities in migratory ducks and shore birds supposedly protected by federal law.
Boswell has so far not taken any responsibility for a massive fish and wildlife kill on a 25 mile stretch of canal in h is cotton kingdom that in the late summer of 1997 destroyed 100 million fish and thousands of birds.
This sad spectacle is what is known as agribusiness.

Boswell has plenty of company in irrigation country out West, where growers have industrialized the fields and gained control of entire rivers. These corporate farmers usually don't live down on the farm. In California they often live in mansions in the city. One zip code in an exclusive neighborhood in Fresno--the nation's farm capital--receives more farm-subsidy checks than anywhere else. Fresno was the top farm-subsidy city in America between 1985 and 1995, with area residents receiving 22,419 checks totaling $103.4 million in taxpayer farm subsidies.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just six percent of our farms--the so-called megafarms--produce 59 percent of the crops in America. Eighty percent of the beef slaughter in America is controlled by just four meatpacking conglomerates, which more than doubled their market share in the past 18 years.

Boswell's domain is the Tulare Lake Basin, comprising parts of Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties in central California. His water rights are a real gusher, all granted from the public: They are equivalent to the needs of a city of three million people and are worth nearly $1 billion, more than twice the value of the land, according to a 1989 article in Forbes magazine, thus placing Boswell in the billionaire club. He also has extensive cotton lands in Arizona, pioneered the cotton industry in Australia, and has long been involved in urban development and real estate in Southern California and Arizona.

Boswell, who helped launch the political careers of three governors--Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Ronald Reagan, and Pete Wilson--is legendary for his behind-the-scenes ability to avoid legal problems or get water laws either interpreted liberally or simply rewritten.

In 1969, when heavy rains hit California and the old Tulare Lake bed began to fill up, Boswell, as the largest landowner in the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, shunted floodwater away from a planned district overflow area because he wanted to plant that area to cotton. Instead the water flowed into the lake, flooding his land and that of other nearby landowners, including the Salyer brothers, the second-largest growers in the lake basin. The Salyer Corporation sued the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District over an existing California water-code section that allowed one vote for every acre--in other words, giving the largest landowner the most votes and control of district policy and elections. Boswell simply used his acreage-based votes to direct the water-district board to flood out his neighbors' fields and keep the planned floodwater storage basin dry.

The Salyer suit finally worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1973 a young Nixon High Court appointee named William Rehnquist, fresh from a law firm in Phoenix, wrote the majority decision, which in effect ruled for the Boswell corporation, arguing that even though water districts were political subdivisions of the state of California, the one-man, one-vote rule should not apply because the largest landholders had the most at stake during flood situations. Constitutional-law textbooks now refer to this decision as an "anomaly" in the American franchise system based upon the hallowed democratic tradition that corporations do not get to vote--and one person, no matter how rich, gets only one vote.

Justice Douglas castigated the Rehnquist ruling in a strongly worded dissent: "It is indeed grotesque to think of corporations voting within the framework of political representation of people," he wrote. "One corporation can outvote 77 individuals in this district."

Boswell, who has escaped major media attention for decades despite his enormous wealth and influence in agriculture, is famous for reaping government windfalls while decrying government support programs. When the rivers of the Southern Sierra flooded the Tulare Lake Basin, as they had done from time immemorial, Boswell collected more than $10 million in federal flood-relief money because his canals and water-delivery systems and cotton fields--located on the lake bed--had been flooded out or damaged. In addition, according to the Washington Post, Boswell got $3.7 million worth of grain from the controversial payment-in-kind program "for idling land that was under floodwater and could not have been planted."

In 1982 Congress, prodded by Western-state lawmakers, "reformed" the 1902 Reclamation Law, which President Theodore Roosevelt had pushed through Congress to put "family farmers" onto the Western deserts. The 1982 bill (1) eliminated the residency requirement, which had never been enforced (so the big growers can continue living in their mansions in town) and (2) raised the acreage limitation for receiving cheap federally subsidized water from 160 acres (which was routinely circumvented) to 960 acres. Even 960 acres wasn't enough for Big Ag. The loopholes in the 1982 "reform" law were large enough to drive John Deere tractors through, and Boswell and the other big Western growers promptly found ways to evade the 960-acre limitation, primarily through leasing arrangements and complex trusts.

In 1989 the U.S. General Accounting Office said Boswell had set up a trust for 326 salaried employees to evade the 960-acre cheap-water cap on his 23,238 acres in the Westlands. Those acres continued to be farmed as one unit by Boswell, who has managed to reap $2 million a year in water subsidies alone from the trust arrangement.

Boswell doesn't have to worry about wildlife laws either. Routine botulism outbreaks in the Tulare Basin, which can kill tens of thousands of migratory birds at a time, are usually attributable to agricultural and irrigation activities, yet enforcement actions are rarely undertaken by the California Department of Fish and Game or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In September 1997 an estimated 100 million fish and 2,300 federally protected birds died in an unexplained disaster along a 25-mile canal on the Boswell holdings. Local game wardens said they could not remember a bigger wildlife die-off in the valley. Crime investigators from the federal and state wildlife agencies were quoted in local newspapers as saying they would uncover the source of the deaths (one potential cause was pesticides) and prosecute those responsible. Nearly a year later no action had been taken.

Boswell has now retired to Ketchum, Idaho, and his son James runs the cotton empire from his home in suburban Los Angeles, although it is believed the elder Boswell still holds the reins.

While Boswell has escaped media scrutiny, he and his cohorts face an ominous threat, which, fittingly enough, they brought upon themselves. Irrigated agriculture on millions of acres of unsuitable soils in the American West is destroying aquifers, salting up land, and poisoning wildlife that once filled the rivers and wetlands west of the Mississippi.

A trace element called selenium, leached from the soil by flood irrigation and dissolved in drainage water flowing from the big irrigation projects, is moving into downstream food chains and causing deformities in migratory birds at--of all places--national wildlife refuges throughout the West. And selenium isn't the only problem. Depending on the soils being drained, the drainwater can also contain dangerous levels of dissolved boron, molybdenum, mercury, arsenic, lead, vanadium, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, sulfates, and even uranium.

Drainage water from irrigated agriculture is created because searing summertime temperatures in California and Western desert lands bring salts, trace elements, and heavy metals to the surface on ancient-seabed shale soils. This witch's brew of chemicals slowly rises into the root zone of crops, threatening productivity. Irrigation waters imported from other areas carry more salts. Flood irrigation in areas with subterranean clay layers further exacerbates the problem of shallow salty groundwater. Agricultural scientists have known for decades that the only way to keep crop production up is to lower the water table below the root zone by pumping the toxic wastewaters out of the ground and sending them somewhere else.

"Since the 1930s an army of government scientists has provided a plethora of disturbing hard facts about selenium," says Joe Skorupa, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who investigated the bird deformities at Boswell's pond. "Unlike other major pollution problems, however, such as acid rain, oil spills, or smog, the government has not only failed to move an inch toward protecting the American public and a wide diversity of public-trust resources, but, incomprehensibly, actually continues to completely exempt agricultural pollution from the Clean Water Act. In the San Joaquin Valley alone, every year of inaction adds the equivalent of about 13,000 Exxon Valdez spills of selenium-tainted wastewater to the legacy of runaway pollution that our children and grandchildren one day will despise today's spineless federal government for."

Skorupa, a fierce critic of the Department of the Interior's alleged selenium policy, adds, "The truly tragic public-policy aspect of all this is that most of the selenium pollution is as economically senseless as it is environmentally senseless, and those facts have been documented in excruciating detail by the federal government's own General Accounting Office. What may amount to America's biggest dirty little secret has been impervious to rational policymaking for more than 60 years, and counting."

The West's selenium trouble, like many problems in irrigated agriculture, is magnified in the western San Joaquin Valley, where Boswell and other growers in the Westlands have successfully evaded any serious federal efforts at a cleanup or prosecution under wildlife laws.

For more than a decade, attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department, under pressure from elected officials who are under pressure from their agribusiness patrons, have simply refused to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a tough bird-protection law with penalties that include both prison time and stiff fines. The treaty has been invoked only once, in 1985, against the federal government itself, to close down farm-drainwater evaporation ponds at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in central California, scene of the first confirmed bird deformities from selenium, discovered in 1983.

Boswell and the other big growers have also managed to avoid paying for the mess their drainage water created. In 1995 the Interior Department's Inspector General's Office also reported that Westlands Water District growers (Boswell has 23,000 acres in the Westlands) had managed to evade the $110 million tab for the Kesterson cleanup and related drainage studies. The $110 million bill was accumulating interest at the rate of $7 million a year, with the taxpayers picking up the tab.

But the Kesterson cleanup tab pales in comparison to the boondoggle desalinization plant in Yuma, Arizona, where Reclamation Bureau engineers have tried without success for decades to pull the farm-pollution toxins and salts from the Colorado River, which is tainted by agricultural return flow. Another Interior Inspector General's report, issued in 1993, said $660 million had been spent on the Yuma desalting plant with no success, and the bureau planned to spend another $1.5 billion by the year 2010, with no guarantee of any success.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been impotent to stop the farm-drainage pollution of rivers and wetlands because farm runoff was exempted from the Clean Water Act in 1977, including the highly toxic end-of-the-pipe subsurface drainage loaded with selenium as well as surface runoff. Indeed, as the Stockton (California) Record reported on June 19, 1998, the E.P.A.--siding with agribusiness--now wants to set standards for selenium and other trace elements and heavy metals in California that officials of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service contend will not protect many species of fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta region.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and his four immediate predecessors--Manuel Lujan, Donald Hodel, William Clark, and James Watt--have tried to cover up the Western drainage problem (Watt), to exercise benign neglect (Clark and Hodel), to claim ignorance (Lujan), or just to leave it for the next guy (Babbitt), because the only economically viable solution seems to be to retire the badlands being irrigated. And that solution is political suicide in farm country.

Only Hodel, who, ironically, is an oilman, tried to do the right thing in 1985 when he ordered Kesterson closed because his attorneys told him that Reclamation Bureau officials might be breaking criminal laws operating the Kesterson ponds. But even Hodel quickly experienced an agribusiness backlash and soon fell silent, allowing Kesterson to stay open another 18 months.

No wildlife refuge receiving toxic farm-drainage water in the West has been closed to the inflow of poisons since the Kesterson debacle 15 years ago, although selenium levels high enough to cause deformities have been confirmed at numerous wildlife refuges in several Western states and at a number of evaporation facilities operated by either local water districts (like Boswell's) or private corporations.

Interior Secretary Lujan, in an August 1991 visit to Yosemite National Park, claimed he was unaware of the bird killings and deformities, which by then had been documented for eight years and were confirmed in several states. Lujan said he did not know why aides would not keep him informed.

Environmentalists say the continued bird deformities and government paralysis or inability to halt the aquatic and avian food-chain poisoning demonstrates the still-potent clout of California agribusiness, which produced some $24.5 billion worth of food and fiber in 1996, but today represents less than three percent of the trillion-dollar annual California economy, which is nowadays primarily fueled by computers and electronics, defense, banking, and tourism.

Marc Reisner explained the Alice in Wonderland quality of California agribusiness this way in a 1993 revised version of his book Cadillac Desert: "Enough water for greater Los Angeles was still being used, in 1986, to raise irrigated pasture for livestock. A roughly equal amount--enough for 20 million people at home, at play, and at work--was used that year to raise alfalfa, also for horses, sheep, and (mainly) cows.... In 1985, however, the pasture crop was worth about $100 million, while Southern California's economy was worth $300 billion, but irrigated pasture used more water than Los Angeles and San Diego combined. When you added cotton (a price-supported crop worth about $900 million that year) to alfalfa and pasture, you had a livestock industry and a cotton industry consuming much more water than everyone in urban California--and producing [only] as much wealth in a year as the urban economy rings up in three or four days."

Not only are huge tonnages of California's river water required to grow cotton and food for dairy and beef cows raised in the central California desert, a 1997 Pacific Gas & Electric Company report on the 450-mile-long Central Valley (Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys combined) estimated that agricultural groundwater overdraft (extracting more than can be replenished annually) totals 15 percent of the entire state's annual net groundwater use. At current agricultural extraction rates, the San Joaquin Valley's groundwater supply will disappear in the next few decades.

To make matters worse, the Central Valley now has 1,600 dairies, the vast majority in the San Joaquin Valley, and the 850,000 cows on those dairies create as much natural waste as a city of 21 million people. There are only three state regulators to oversee disposal of this mountain of manure and river of cow urine, which is either kept in leaky lagoons that pollute the aquifer with nitrates or dumped into the San Joaquin River, which runs down the center of the valley The San Joaquin River is often called the most-abused river in the U.S., and in 1997 was named one of the nation's ten most-endangered rivers by American Rivers, a Washington-based advocacy group.

A May 1998 U.S. Geological Survey Report on San Joaquin Valley groundwater supplies, serving more than 2.5 million valley residents, said San Joaquin groundwater is among the poorest in quality in the U.S. The report said 25 percent of valley wells had nitrate levels--probably from fertilizers--that violated national drinking-water standards, and more than half the wells tested positive for pesticides, many of which don't have drinking-water standards.

While ripping off the liquid gold of California's rivers has been an agribusiness specialty for decades, scientists say current methods of disposing of farm drainage may be the final environmental insult that ruins not only aquifers and rivers, and destroys wildlife, but also ruins the very farms that are creating the toxic effluent.

A February 1998 federal-state study of the drainage problem in the western San Joaquin Valley noted 869,000 acres would have a shallow-groundwater problem by the year 2000, and more than 410,000 acres would have salinity and boron problems "sufficiently high to limit agriculture."

To combat the salty-groundwater problem, California growers in the past four decades have installed 33,000 miles of subsurface drainpipes to collect these shallow saline groundwaters and pump them somewhere else--to the nearest river, a public or private evaporation pond, or a low-lying national wildlife wetlands refuge. This "solution" has been bad for the receiving waters and fish and wildlife in every case.

Although estimates of present and future "problem water" are hard to nail down in an atmosphere of nonregulation, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Theresa Presser, who has been studying the selenium problem in California for nearly two decades, estimates that 150 billion gallons of toxic farm subsurface drainage water is generated annually in the Golden State. While the farm wastewater from the San Joaquin Valley flows north into the San Joaquin River or festers in evaporation ponds, the drainage from the Coachella and Imperial valleys at the southern end of the state enters the polluted Salton Sea. Huge fish and bird die-offs are a regular occurrence there, and biologists say the Salton could become utterly lifeless in the near future as the continued influx of salts and toxins in the drainage overwhelms all aquatic species.

While birds were dying by the thousands at Kesterson, Boswell had the audacity in the summer of 1984 to send California Water Commission members on a tour of his 3,165-acre evaporation pond complex and have his drainage district manager, Steve Hall, claim that selenium had not been found in the Tulare Basin soils or evaporation ponds. This, of course, could not have been true, as the bird deformities at the Boswell ponds (first tested and confirmed in 1987) turned out to be far worse than at Kesterson. Hall could only have meant there hadn't been any selenium tests yet of Boswell's drainage. In the manner of other Boswell employees who have moved on to bigger and better things in Water World, Hall is now executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, where he continues to espouse western San Joaquin Valley agriculture's views on water issues.

Throughout 1984 the Kesterson problem continued to worsen. By early 1985 neighboring cattle ranchers Jim and Karen Claus had won a State Water Resources Control Board cleanup order for Kesterson. A CBS "60 Minutes" segment aired on March 10, 1985, showing the ugly ducklings at Kesterson and embarrassed Reclamation officials fumbling to explain the debacle.

Interior Secretary Hodel had enough when advisers told him local Bureau of Reclamation officials might be violating the criminal provisions of the Migratory Treaty Act by keeping Kesterson open. On the Ides of March 1985 he announced that he was closing Kesterson. The announcement sent shock waves through irrigated agriculture that are still felt to this day.

By 1986 the Kesterson ponds had been dried out and Interior scientists looking around the West were discovering selenium contamination in Boswell's local water-district drainwater evaporation ponds in the Tulare Basin, at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California, at the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada (in combination with mercury), and at dozens of other national wildlife refuges around the West. While federal officials began the process of endless studies, no action was taken to halt the selenium poisoning of the wildlife-refuge system, which continues to this day.

A national blue-ribbon 26-member panel of wildlife experts issued a scathing report in August 1991, charging directors of the nation's premier wildlife research center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Patuxent Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, with harassing field-level biologists and attempting to downplay the threat of the growing selenium pollution problem. The report, obviously referring to federal biologist Harry Ohlendorf (who'd discovered the deformities at Kesterson), pesticide researchers Chuck Henny and Larry Blus, and Joe Skorupa (who had investigated the bird deformities at the Boswell ponds), said government scientists "had paid a personal price for upholding good science in the face of heavy political, bureaucratic, and social pressures." Felix Smith, the federal biologist who first blew the whistle at the Kesterson refuge, was named in news reports as being hounded into early retirement for trying to protect migratory birds.

In a 1994 Audubon magazine article reporter Ted Williams discussed harassment of field-level federal biologists and quoted Felix Smith as saying that the day Fish and Wildlife Service officials agreed to take drainage at Kesterson "was the day we made a bargain with the devil."

When Kesterson erupted in the news in the summer of 1984, President Reagan's old California friend Bill Clark had just taken over as secretary of the Interior; he promised that a solution to the drainage disposal problem was near, adopting the time-honored political tactic of ordering a lengthy state-federal study. His ploy worked. A $50-million state-federal study commenced in 1985 with much fanfare, and ended in 1990 with a whimper. It was full of good recommendations, including one for retiring hundreds of thousands of acres of bad land. It was also promptly shelved.

The Reclamation Bureau has finally launched a modest program to retire the first 12,000 acres of high-selenium soils in the Westlands. At that pace it will take 200 years to retire all the bad land just in the 600,000-acre Westlands. No one even talks about the millions of acres of high-selenium farmland all around the West that should be taken out of production.

Congress passed another reclamation reform bill in 1992 to put more federal irrigation water back into California's depleted rivers and the San Francisco Bay-Delta to help revive the moribund salmon runs, but Westland growers, backed by valley politicians, have been working ceaselessly to rescind or weaken that law.

Fish and Wildlife's Skorupa complained in the Audubon article that he took a solid case for criminal acts at the Boswell killing ponds to Justice Department attorneys just before the 1992 election but that the federal prosecutors got cold feet and weak spines.

"We were told we had an excellent case," Skorupa told Audubon's Williams, "that they had every confidence that it was winnable, but that until we went and got someone at least at the secretarial level in Interior to give a clear policy directive, the Justice Department would not pursue it."

Skorupa says that about half of 161 federal irrigation-project drainage sites in the West studied between 1986 and 1993 have selenium levels high enough to trigger embryotoxicity, which can include deformities. What is more depressing is that federal irrigation projects make up only about a quarter of all irrigated agriculture in the Western United States. The other 75 percent of the irrigated land in the West has not even been looked at for selenium poisoning.

Eleven years after the first confirmed selenium-caused bird deformities at the Boswell ponds, the Department of Justice, with Janet Reno presently at the helm, still has taken no action against Boswell, and any possible prosecutions for the bird deaths Skorupa painstakingly documented beginning in 1987 are falling prey to the statute of limitations. An angry Skorupa can only shake his head.

Although the government has had serious warnings about selenium problems in the West for more than 50 years, the Department of the Interior was still claiming in 1997 that selenium had been an "unforeseen consequence of irrigation drainage. That '97 report from the National Irrigation Water Quality Program also claimed that "because complete investigation of every irrigated area in the Western United States is impractical, managers need to be able to predict where selenium contamination is likely."

But it's not impractical at all, insists Theresa Presser, who was one of the first to document the widespread selenium contamination in the western San Joaquin Valley. According to Presser, selenium contamination is also likely not only where soils have selenium ejected from ancient volcanoes during the Cretaceous age, but also where ancient seabed soils have been uplifted by geologic activity over eons, such as California's Coast Range. In other words, human irrigation and export of the resulting drainage water into evaporation ponds or wetlands is doing in a few years what nature took millions of years to do.

It's clear that no one in the Clinton administration is going to make the hard decisions about getting the toxic soils in the West out of production. In late May 1998 the E.P.A. held a conference in Washington, D.C., that was attended almost entirely by big selenium polluters--oil companies, mining companies, major agribusiness, coal-burning utilities. They all argued against any E.P.A. review of the current standards for selenium in rivers, lakes, and marshes, which scientists say is at least twice as high as it should be and which may lead to the extinction of at least 20 species of fish and wildlife.

Boswell and the other agribusiness lords are determined not to become extinct themselves. Last March a consortium of state and federal agencies that dances to the tune of agribusiness announced a new plan to build a peripheral canal around the Delta and import yet more northern California river water to the selenium fields of the western San Joaquin Valley.

In July the Western Water Policy Review Commission, created by Congress in 1992, issued its report, three years behind schedule. The report identified agricultural wastewater as the single largest source of pollution in the West, recommended phasing out federal water subsidies, and specifically suggested that subsurface drainage water, which triggers the bird deformities, be brought under the Clean Water Act and regulated because it is an end-of-the-pipe type of pollution.

The response of the growers was typical. "The sooner this report gets put on a shelf and starts gathering dust the better," said Jason Peltier, manager of the Central Valley Project Water Association.

Dinosaurs swing big tails going down.

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Dude, Denny's got his cliches down!

Submitted: Jun 17, 2007

"In exchange for having a seat at the table, you agree that at the end of the day, you're all going to be on the same page..."That does not mean I'm a lackey for Nancy Pelosi." --Rep. Dennis "I'm No Nancy Boy" Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

It would be funny if this was a script for a baseball comedy film called "Bull Durham." Unfortunately, this guy is our US congressman during the most corrupt moment of political history since the McKinley administration. But Madame McClatchy's dutiful stenographer, Mike Doyle, takes it all down, word for meaningless word.

The Shrimp Slayer (Not A Nancy Boy) is babbling about as coherently today as he was two years ago, when he emerged from a developer luncheon hosted by Fritz Grupe and splitting $50,000 with former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, the man he called "Mr. Chairman." These two crooks went back to Washington to write a bill to kill the Endangered Species Act -- earning the dual sobriquet, the Pomboza, from local farmers who sensed that whatever Pombo and Cardoza were up to, it did not bode well for the future of agriculture in the north San Joaquin Valley.

We don't have to ask Cardoza where he sits on San Joaquin Valley air quality or species crashes in the Delta or on the newly proposed peripheral canal. At the end of the day, he'll be sitting at the table on the same page with finance, insurance and real estate special interests, which does not bode well for the health and safety of humanity or any other species caught in those plans on that page at that table at the end of that day.

We don't mind crooks in the 18th congressional district of the great state of California. Nobody of any integrity could get the money to get elected to represent this district. We know that. But still, within the squalid limits of character permitted an elected official in this region, we still have our standards, however debased they have become by our dismal political experience. And a stone hypocrite, hiding behind the emptiest cliches in the business, is beyond the pale of even our deformed political taste.

Cardoza, our highest elected official, keeps a district office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. It is evident among the elected officials that decide local land-use planning in the county and its cities, that these cliches are running downhill. This has resulted in a local government culture that is no more than one large hypocritical cliche to hide the fact it has become a financial vortex.

To make matters worse, members of the public intent on conflict-free dialogue continue to meet with the local decision-makers within the context of this large hypocritical cliche, adding to it as they invent grand fables about their political efficacy. Meanwhile, the 18th CD leads the nation in mortgage foreclosures and Valley air quality achieves its own unique designation -- worst of the worst.

When political language ceases to have any meaning at all, politicians are hiding something dangerous. These are times when government regards the public as its top enemy.

Badlands editorial staff

Fresno Bee
Cardoza's ties divide voters. Democratic congressman often walks a fine line with conservative district....Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureau

Dennis Cardoza wanted a seat at the table, and he got it...the third-term Democratic congressman from Merced is a Capitol insider, setting the rules for House debate. But in a political twist, the very position that grants Cardoza clout could also estrange some San Joaquin Valley voters. A moderate, Cardoza is nonetheless a lieutenant to liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He has her ear. She, in turn, often has his vote. The result is a fine line to walk for a congressman representing an often-conservative district. "In exchange for having a seat at the table," Cardoza said, "you agree that at the end of the day, you're all going to be on the same page." Cardoza and other members of the House Rules Committee decide how legislation is debated and what amendments can be offered...the 13-member panel shapes every bill considered by the House of Representatives. Rules Committee members have extra leverage with their colleagues, because they have their hands on every bill. Cardoza said the position gives him an opportunity to offer more amendments of his own. On the House floor, Cardoza and other Blue Dogs are generally the Democrats most likely to dissent from the party. But in the confines of the House Rules Committee, which meets on the third floor of the Capitol, Cardoza's voting is uniformly Democratic. Behind the scenes, moreover, Cardoza said the story is even more complex. "If you're on the Rules Committee, you vote with your party," Cardoza said. "That does not mean I'm a lackey for Nancy Pelosi." Cardoza likened his role to a "canary in a coal mine." In essence, he is a designated liaison to the Democrats' moderate wing. He lets House leaders know what might cause trouble for centrists. In turn, he gives the 47-member Blue Dog caucus an early heads-up on bills.

"Bull Durham" (1988)

Crash Davis: It's time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.

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Another Sonny Star scoop

Submitted: Jun 01, 2007

The Merced Sun-Star's big agricultural/environmental story today was a Modesto Bee story about a press conference called by Rep. Dennis Cardoza-Merced, about the plight of the honey bee. Perhaps Madame McClatchy is concerned about brand identification with a collapsing species. Cardoza seems concerned that research doesn't focus too much on pesticides.

Merced Sun-Star
Cardoza seeks help for beehive deaths...John Holland...Modesto Bee

Dan Avila's farm was the site of a news conference held Thursday by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and others concerned about the bees. Cardoza is seeking a boost in federal funding for research on the die-off, which started in the fall. Some beekeepers have had little or no damage, while others have lost most of their colonies. Experts say the causes of the die-off — dubbed colony collapse disorder — could include parasites, pesticides, drought or cold snaps. "They feel that it is most likely a combination of factors causing colony collapse disorder, and that makes it more difficult to do the research," Cardoza said. Cardoza said he could not estimate how much federal research money might be provided. He did say that lawmakers have discussed boosting farm research in general by several hundred million dollars. Congress could act by September on the funding, said Cardoza, chairman of the House subcommittee on horticulture and organic agriculture.

The SF Chronicle, attending the same event, got a remarkably different story.

San Francisco Chronicle
Many causes blamed for honeybee die-off...George Raine

A team of entomologists and other scientists studying the alarming die-off of honeybees across the country is expected to report that there are multiple causes of the deaths, called colony collapse disorder. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater (Merced County), said he has seen portions of the report being prepared for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to be released later this month...said it lays out several possible causes, including parasites and a lack of genetic diversity. The challenge, Cardoza said, will be to tailor research efforts to return the most benefit. "Most likely it is a combination of factors,''..."When you look at multiple factors it really complicates the research,'' he said. Cardoza gathered reporters, beekeepers, farmers and a UC Davis Extension apiculturist for an update on colony collapse disorder... Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., introduced a bill in March that would give the USDA $50 million over five years to study colony collapse, but Cardoza, a fiscally conservative Democrat whose district includes Stockton, Merced and Modesto, said that is too costly and he prefers to narrow the research target. He said conversations are taking place about a possible emergency appropriation and also additional research money for colony collapse added to the farm bill that is expected to be considered in September.

Sonny Star filled its front page with a photo of meth-lab remains and a big story on the newest UC Merced chancellor's view that the Valley suffers from a college-degree deficit. Oh, and Smoky the press guy retired from the paper.

Meanwhile, out in the world ...

From: Thomas, Ted (
Sent: Thu 5/31/07 1:39 PM

Security scan upon download
att5bea2.jpg (15.0 KB)


May 31, 2007


· Don Strickland, Information Officer (916) 653 9515

· Ted Thomas, Information Officer (916) 653-9712


SACRAMENTO – Department of Water Resources Director Lester A. Snow and Department of Fish and Game Director Ryan Broddrick will conduct a telephone news media conference call at 2:30 p.m. today to discuss measures regarding the endangered Delta smelt population.

The conference call number is 1-877-536-5793 Code 344390.

Delta Smelt Press Release‎
From: Thomas, Ted (
Sent: Thu 5/31/07 2:12 PM

Security scan upon download
att222a6.jpg (15.0 KB)

News for Immediate Release - DRAFT
May 31, 2007

Sue Sims, Assistant Director for Public Affairs, (916) 651-7242
Ted Thomas, Public Information Officer (916) 653-9712

DWR Stops Pumping to Protect Delta Smelt

Sacramento - The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced it will stop pumping at State Water Project (SWP) facilities in the Delta to provide maximum protection for Delta smelt. This action follows the observed entrainment of juvenile smelt between May 25 and May 31 at the Harvey O. Banks pumping plant facility.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “While there are clearly many factors at play in the current decline of smelt in the Delta, we must act on the one that is within our control. That is why DWR will stop pumping in the Delta as a preventative measure to protect endangered fish that are currently located near our facilities.”

Snow also challenged other public agencies with jurisdiction over activities affecting Delta smelt to take aggressive actions to protect the species. Scientific studies indicate that pelagic fish are affected by many stressors. Water project operations can affect fish, however, invasive species, toxics, and diversion by many other water users in the south Delta have dramatic effects on these fish.

This year’s toxic events in the Sacramento River system in the Delta occurred at a time and location where adult Delta smelt were concentrated and spawning. The extremely low numbers of young smelt, identified earlier this month, are likely a direct result of these toxic events. Regardless of the cause of this drop in Delta smelt, all agencies need to be taking actions to protect those that are left.

DWR stopped pumping at the Harvey O. Banks pumping plant this morning. Some water deliveries will be made to South San Francisco Bay users from water supplies already in the aqueduct. DWR will collaborate with other agencies to evaluate water conditions in the Delta and health and safety needs for water users.

"Our actions to save the smelt will place a real hardship on some water users in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California,” said Snow. “However, given the concerns about the Delta smelt, this is a prudent action at this time."

The State Water Project supplies water to 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.

In early 2005, scientists working on the Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) first identified the decline in pelagic fish species. Since then, the state has initiated extensive and expensive studies to determine the causes for the decline in pelagic fish productivity in the Bay/Delta Estuary. In addition to considering the impact of state and federal water project operations, scientists have identified many other causes of a changing ecosystem.

In response, DWR has initiated measures to protect the Delta ecosystem, and minimize the effects of exports on fish and their habitat.

This year, the SWP modified its operations by use of the adaptive Environmental Water Account. From January through mid-May, about 300,000 acre-feet of water were used to reduce exports to help protect Delta smelt. During this time period, no delta smelt were recorded in the SWP fish salvage operations at the Banks Pumping plant. In mid-May, exports were reduced again due to the distribution of Delta smelt into areas that made them more susceptible to pumping. On May 24, Delta smelt began to appear at Banks pumping plant in low numbers. These numbers have increased in recent days triggering DWR’s response today.

“This is another indication that the Delta is broken and needs to be fixed,” said Snow. Governor Schwarzenegger time and again has said that we need to invest in our water systems, including more storage, conservation and a long term strategy for the Delta.

Last year, the governor initiated a comprehensive Delta Vision process and appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force to recommend future actions that will achieve a sustainable Delta. In addition, many state and federal agencies and environmental groups signed a formal Planning Agreement in September 2006 and are developing Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) for at-risk fish species under the provisions of the State Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA) and the federal Endangered Species Act under Section 10 that allows for Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP). These efforts will provide a framework for future action.

The Department of Water Resources operates and maintains the State Water Project, provides dam safety and flood control and inspection services, assists local water districts in water management and water conservation planning, and plans for future statewide water needs.

Contact the DWR Public Affairs Office for more information about DWR's water activities.

Modesto Bee
Ten-day window for West Side water...Michael G. Mooney
West Side farmers and residents of Diablo Grande, a golf and resort community in the foothills west of Patterson, could be left high and dry should south San Joaquin Delta pumps remain shut down for more than 10 days. "I'm a little nervous about the situation," said Bill Harrison, who manages the Oak Flat Water and Del Puerto water districts in western Stanislaus County. "We need the water." Thursday morning, the California Department of Water Resources turned off its massive pumps near Tracy... DWR director Lester Snow said the pumps will remain off for seven to 10 days. He said that no farmer, business or resident would be forced to go without water during that time.

Fresno Bee
Exports of delta water stopped after fish deaths...Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

State Department of Water Resources officials said the action is expected to last seven to 10 days, until water conditions allow the fish to move to safer areas. Shortages are not expected for the 25 million Californians who get water from the delta, including some San Joaquin Valley farms... if the shutdown lasts longer, some water agencies, mainly in the Bay Area, may have to impose mandatory conservation or rationing measures. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also has shut down all but one of the six pumps at its separate, federal delta water export facility, an unprecedented step. The delta is the hub of the state's water system, channeling abundant snowmelt in the north to dry regions in the south. But that function is increasingly threatened by crumbling levees, poor habitat and climate change. For now, the state water project pump stoppage will not keep water from being delivered to San Joaquin Valley users. Those south of the San Luis Reservoir, near Los Banos, will continue to receive water from that reservoir... In the Central Valley, the Kern County Water Agency is the largest state project water user, accounting for about 25% of the allocation...will continue to receive water from the San Luis Reservoir. The Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles gets about 50% of the water, and 27 other water agencies make up the remaining 25%, said Jim Beck, Kern County Water Agency general manager. It already has been a dry year, and as a result, state water project users are receiving 60% of their maximum annual allocation, Beck said. Politicians and biologists have struggled unsuccessfully for years to balance the competing needs of wildlife and water users, and it has become increasingly clear that a balance cannot be struck given how the delta is used today.

Sacramento Bee
Delta pumps halted...Matt Weiser
Graphics Print
Shortages are not expected for the 25 million Californians who get water from the Delta...if the shutdown lasts longer, some water agencies, mainly in the Bay Area, may have to impose mandatory conservation or rationing measures. Many have called on customers to adopt extra voluntary conservation steps amid what is already one of the driest years on record in the state. Environmental groups speculated the DWR's move to halt pumping was aimed to avoid rigid action by the courts. Jennings said his group planned next week to seek a restraining order against state pumping operations to protect the smelt. Water users south of San Luis Reservoir, near Los Banos, will continue receiving deliveries as expected during the shutdown from that source, which stores water pumped from the Delta. Those served by the South Bay Aqueduct, however, will not receive any Delta water during the shutdown and will have to rely on local sources.About 2 million people in the Bay Area depend on that water for part of their supply... The only farms affected if the shutdown lasts more than 10 days are those that use water from canals and pipes fed directly by the Delta pumps. These include about 2,200 acres of almonds, alfalfa and vegetables in the Oak Flat Water District near Patterson... Bill Harrison, general manager of the Oak Flat district, said his area has poor groundwater but should be able to irrigate for a week using water already pumped into the canal that runs from the Delta to San Luis Reservoir. After that, he said, "about 1,300 to 1,400 acres would be high and dry."

Water Wars: Be careful what you wish for...Hank Shaw's blog...5-31-07

...giant water pumps near Tracy grinding to a halt... “Drastic times call for drastic measures,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “While there are clearly many factors at play in the current decline of smelt in the Delta, we must act on the one that is within our control. That is why DWR will stop pumping in the Delta as a preventative measure to protect endangered fish that are currently located near our facilities.” Snow then threw down the gauntlet, daring the feds to stop their pumps, too, and urging the local farmers to limit pesticide use in the area. DWR's theory is that some unusual pesticide event in the Delta this year is the chief cause of the smelty meltdown, not operation of the pumps. Was there a fish kill no one heard about? If so, why on earth was no one told? ...DWR seems to be putting as much emphasis on pesticides that their opponents put on the pumps. It is a dry year, remember, so what better way to gin up support for resumed "normal" pumping than to cut off the tap and rattle the natives? Is this what Snow is up to? Of course it may just be a case where doing the right thing happens to give you a political advantage at the same time...or it may not be.

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Sonny Star, a Klass act

Submitted: May 19, 2007

Sonny "Loose Lips" Star mentioned the name of a real nice lady Friday night. We miss her. But, under cover of this fine person, Sonny took another shot at the county's natural resources. Sonny's taste is all in his mouth.

Sonny was evidently disappointed at not being included in the entourage of Raunchwood's Big Vegas Weekend, featuring Oscar de la Hoya (or was it de la Renta?). Maybe Raunchwood found fairy shrimp in Las Vegas fountains. It wiped out about 3,000 acres of their habitat near Le Grand a couple of years ago. Sonny cheered silently in the background, while county staff did nothing. The rear end of the Pomboza, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, cheered louder.

Things have changed but not, of course, in Sonny's little bubble. The Pomboza bill to gut the Endangered Species Act failed. Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, was defeated. He's now a lobbyist like his mentor, Jack Abramoff. And the Pomboza recently lost its best friend in the Department of Interior, Julia McDonald, now under investigation for serving special interests instead of the public interest on a variety of projects, including the critical habitat designation for vernal pools and their associated endangered species. Merced County contains the richest fields of pools in the state.

Then, of course, there is the housing boom, which has become a vortex and a cause for panic in some financial circles. "But Darling," Sonny would have told the Raunchwood Set if only he'd been invited, "of course the boom would still be going if it weren't for those nasty little shrimp.

"Predatory lending? Surely you jest. Let the bankrupts eat almonds. What's a 42-inch diameter, mile long sewer pipe to nowhere for, anyway?"

Madame McClatchy trained Sonny to say all the right things at all the right times.

Bill Hatch

Merced Sun-Star
Loose Lips
Merced builder in the crowd for Vegas fight...Partying like it's 2005 ... Merced's once blazing hot housing market is now colder than a bowl of icicle soup, but that doesn't mean that Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler is feeling the chill...Hostetler -- the self-made Los Banos native who builds subdivisions with swanky names -- has been laying low for the past couple of months, but burst back onto the jet-set scene recently when he attended the title fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. at Las Vegas' MGM Grand hotel. Lips wonders why Hostetler seems untouched by the recent "correction" (read: screeching halt) in the housing market. Maybe it's all those almond trees he has up his sleeve ...
Susie about to receive a tribute that is as bubbly as her personality was...The City Council is set to vote Monday night on plans to name the fountain in Bob Hart Square after Rossi who was known for her dedication to transforming downtown into a vibrant and entertaining area. With any luck, no fairy shrimp will take up residence in the fountain. It would be a pain to get a federal wetlands permit every time the city wants to turn on the spray.

Modesto Bee
Foreclosures rise...J.N. Sbranti

San Joaquin County had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last month, and Stanislaus and Merced counties weren't much better. One of every 131 homeowners in San Joaquin County were in default on their mortgages and being foreclosed this April, according to RealtyTrac's U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. One of every 180 homes faced foreclosure in Stanislaus County, and one of every 210 homes in Merced County.

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Sonny Star, the gigolo press

Submitted: May 14, 2007

To begin skip-loading the mountainous manure pile of propaganda that has grown up beside both the UC Merced and the Riverside Motorsparts Pork (RMP) project, let us start the tractor engine with a few simple words: both are bad projects according to state and federal environmental law and regulation. The legal arguments are included in numerous lawsuits. They are public information.

The University of California behaves like an 800-pound gorilla plutocrat with a PhD in nuclear physics. It used its wealth to flood Merced with propaganda – for sheer deceit worthy of UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- for seven years before it broke ground on the former municipal golf course. A large part of that propaganda appeared as paid inserts in the Merced Sun-Star, for which UC became the largest advertiser for several years. Another large part came in the form of so-called “news” articles that were obedient stenography of UC Merced administration propaganda. One particularly dramatic example was the vehicular homicide of a pedestrian near the campus by UC Merced students in a car. The newspaper and, no doubt, the UC Bobcatflak Machine went into overdrive in its zeal to protect these homicidal brats, producing the new that the district attorney might have served the under-aged victim a drink four hours earlier at a country club party. The question, if it would have made any difference if DA had served a 40-year old man a drink four hours earlier and that 40-year-old man had happened to be walking there at the same time and place, went unasked. The retiring DA’s enemies provided enough information to the paper for the next year to produce some juicy bits of corruption (the DA is without doubt the only county department head who ever abused his cell-phone and county-car privileges) but it remains to be seen if he will ever be convicted of anything. Nevertheless, the assassination of the DA’s character marvelously distracted public attention from the UC golden goose eggs who committed the homicide.

UC Merced was built without proper permits, on the 800-pound-gorilla-plutocrat-PhD theory that once it broke ground on an expanse of extremely sensitive endangered species habitat, the permits would follow. UC Merced shares with RMP five common characteristics: 1) they are the two largest construction projects in the county; 2) both are legally actionable bad projects under the California Environmental Quality Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Clean Air and Clean Water acts; 3) both are advanced scofflaws; 4) both bought the newspaper in advance; 5) both supportered the Pomboza’s (congressmen Pombo and Cardoza) attempts to destroy the Endangered Species Act on behalf of finance, insurance and real estate interests of the north San Joaquin Valley.

This weekend, the Sun-Star is featuring the true revelations of Kenny Shepherd, “a local legend,” in his dealings with John Condren, CEO of the RMP project, a NASCAR-level auto-racing extravagance that the county approved late last year for a 1,200-acre almond ranch adjoining the former Castle Airport Base, now designated as a “foreign trade zone.” Condren dumped Shepherd and other local investors off his board of directors the day after RMP got county Board of Supervisors’ approval, which increased the value of the land anywhere from four to 10-fold, depending on who you believe how much Condren paid the former, bankrupt owner before board approval. This Sun-Star propaganda campaign against Condren is manure.

However, to fully tell the story of the Sun-Star in simple words anyone might understand, we must resort to our second metaphor. Six months ago, before the board approval of RMP, this gigolo of a newspaper delivered the following opinion:

Nov. 18, 2006
It's time to start our engines...Editorial

County can't afford to pass up opportunities the racetrack will provide. After years of debate, thousands of pages of impact reports, hundreds of written comments and hours of oral public statements, the final verdict on the construction of the Riverside Motorsports Park is about to arrive. On Dec. 12, Merced County supervisors will either approve or turn down a number of issues that will collectively decide the project's fate. Read it all for yourself; we've posted it on our Internet site at This community needs the economic shot in the arm the raceway would provide. Racing is big business, and this project gives us the chance to be at the epicenter of this developing sport...RMP is designed to be a home base for the business of racing. While we're sensitive to the concerns of the park's detractors, the detailed Environmental Impact Report and the unprecedented proposed mitigation for adverse impacts more than adequately address any potential problems RMP would create. We don't agree, like we've heard some people say, that RMP is an even bigger plus than UC Merced. That's ridiculous. A university that enrolls and educates thousands will have a much more profound impact than an auto raceway ever will dream to have. Riverside Motorsports Park deserves its chance, and this community needs the jobs. (for the full editorial, use the link)

Sonny Star endorsed the project before approval, when its opinion – its money opinion – mattered. Since approval of the RMP project, the paper has been in a rage to describe Condren as a confidence man. A gigolo calls a john a con man. Who are you gonna believe?

Now, five months after the RMP project was approved, it prints the second result of its famous “investigative journalism.” The first came days after the approval.

Why the change of view? We didn’t get an answer in the first articles. Five months later, we are told that the day after the supervisors approved the project, Condren fired the board of directors that got him through the approval process with all the political pressure their investments could inspire.

Before the approval and Condren dumped the board he came in with, the local investors – were putting all the pressure they could muster on the paper and the supervisors and not saying anything of what they thought they knew about Condren to help the public in any way. For this, Shepherd is now getting the Local Legend Prize of the Week.

After the investors lost their decision-making power in the RMP organization, they went back to Sonny Star with all kinds of bad stories about Condren, which the paper printed. This weekend, the Sun-Star is portraying up an arrogant, has-been stockcar driver as a local innocent bilked by a big city slicker with a dark business past. It’s manure.

If Condren actually were a professional confidence man, he could not have picked a finer place for an operation than among the business community in Merced on the theory that “you can’t cheat an honest man.” After years of UC Merced propaganda and speculator-driven urban growth, the Merced business community is an attractive mark, whatever Condren’s intentions might be. One of the most crooked marks on the scene is Sonny Star, which is supposed to be the local newspaper. It is nothing but a corporate gigolo from nowhere, an attractive escort for any wealthy company as long as it has memorized its lines fed to it by UC Merced or the next developer with the fee to buy an evening, a season or decades of its services. When it attempts to speak for the community, its voice is hideously mangled, as in the “ironic” column a year ago about undocumented immigrants, including a Le Grand High School girl being swept up and jailed by ICE. Some Merced citizens told Madame McClatchy that its handsome boy was babbling white racist ideology. Sonny Star is awful quiet about ICE sweeps this year.

You expect your supervisors in the middle of a speculative housing boom to be corrupt. You hope they won’t become nothing but a gang of crooks, but humanity is subject to temptation. If you are serious enough, you can always throw the bums out.. But you can’t throw out Sonny Star. Legally at least, it is a newspaper, the only kind of business enterprise protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. It doesn’t even have to be whore to make a living. But, because Sonny Star is what it is, it has no respect for itself and you can’t expect it to have any respect for the truth or you, either. Sonny Star from Nowhere has been servicing special interests for so long it doesn’t know who it is or where it is or what time it is.

There is no journalistic excuse for it. Sonny Star reporters have access to hard copies of all staff reports seen by the supervisors every week – a great deal more information than the public can get, setting aside CD’s-from-Hell made available shortly after the RMP decision. The public has to pay lawyers to dicker with the County for public information. Members of the Merced public already have won one state Public Records Act case against the County. But Sonny Star doesn’t use the material it gets, including the texts of suits filed against RMP and other developers, including UC Merced, through the years. It doesn’t read the material. A gigalo just has to look and sound like he went to college. The gigalo’s opinions are hand-picked by Madame McClatchy and nearby corporate interests, the same interests that “put Merced on the map” as the fourth worst city in America. These are the same corporate interests that have created a community with so many cracks in it all the fantasy expressways they can imagine we should raise our sales taxes to help fund could not pave them over. These are the same corporate interests of finance, insurance and real estate that have “put Merced on the map” as one of the top national centers of predatory lending.

Badlands editorial staff

Merced Sun-Star
Advocate to adversary: Kenny Shepherd's RMP Story...Corinne Reilly

Merced County's own NASCAR driver once was a proud supporter of the Riverside Motorsports Park project and its chief executive, John Condren - but he now has a dramatically different opinion. By the time it came down to the last public hearing, things were so bad that Kenny Shepherd almost testified against Riverside Motorsports Park the night the Board of Supervisors approved it. "I was so close to speaking out against RMP," Shepherd said. "I really was torn. It had all become such a mess." By the end of 2006, Shepherd says he had watched RMP's CEO and co-founder, John Condren, blow through investors' money, burn his business partners, cast aside cries from within RMP to drastically scale back his spending, fail to pay his employees on time, and ultimately fire those who had carried RMP to its approval the day after the Board of Supervisors' decision. Local roots... Humble beginning... Buying Altamont...renovations - Condren spent far beyond what was budgeted...."40 to 50 percent over budget at least,"..."It all had to be brand new for (Condren). It could never be cheaper, used equipment,"..."It got to the point that even if we sold out every event that season, the profits still wouldn't be enough to pay all the debt...Condren's business model just didn't work." Shepherd said the expensive cars, the brand new equipment, and all the investor dollars Condren was spending in Merced became RMP's credibility. Split from RMP... After a 12-hour marathon public hearing before the Board of Supervisors, the board sealed the project's approval on Dec. 19. On Dec. 20 Shepherd received a letter from Condren informing him that he was no longer a member of RMP's board of directors. Nolind and Melvin Andress, another RMP investor and board member received the same letter. Power to fire...Shepherd and Nolind each said the now understand that RMP's operating agreement, which Condren wrote, included a provision that Condren was allowed to fire at will as the company's manager. Nolind said he read the company's operating agreement early on, but that Condren was able to change it every year, and because he trusted Condren, Nolind didn't insist on reading the updated versions. "I guess that makes me an idiot,"… Both said that they believe RMP is now managed solely by Condren and his wife, Jeanne Harper. Harper said the company is comprised of Condren, herself and Melville, the former Gustine city councilman. She said the company's advisory board includes Neal Sebbard and Steve Nassar; both of whom work for a San Francisco based investment servics frim, Stone & Youngberg, LLC

Merced Sun-Star
RMP's memo about restructuring the organization...12-20-06

Motorsports Park

20 December 2006

Notice To: RMP Executive Advisory Board
· Ms. Jeanne Harper-Condren
· Mr. Mel Andrews
· Mr. Kenny Shepherd
· Mr. John Nolind
From: John Condren
Cc: Robert Sturges, Esq.
Neal Sebbard (S&Y)
Steve Nasser (S&Y)

Subject: Restructuring of RMP

Good day to all:

It is a tremendous day for Riverside Motorsports Park, having the certification of its EIR approved on 13 December and final project approval by the Merced County Board of Supervisors yesterday...pursuant to Section 5.13 of the Operating Agreement for Riverside Motorsports Park, I am releasing and removing you from the Executive Advisory Board. This is effective immediately and is done with my deepest gratitude.

County still could enjoy a racing complex...Steve Cameron

So now we know. The entire Riverside Motorsports Park project is a mess, from the inside out...revelations from local driving legend Kenny Shepherd about chaos and deception overwhelming the original investment group are stunning -- but hardly a surprise given the events of the past several months. The problems RMP boss John Condren has encountered at his Altamont track, where Alameda County supervisors who once wanted to help him now are fuming over countless violations and a general attitude of arrogance, should have given us all the necessary clues. The whole thing seems to be heading for hell in a handbasket, and Shepherd knew it when he cut all ties with Condren. If you need any further proof of what a fiasco Shepherd watched from the inside, consider that Kenny turned down RMP stock to which he was entitled rather than be stuck with any legal ties to Condren. When you read and hear Shepherd's account of how Condren used his first investors to pitch everyone in Merced County to get RMP approved by the supervisors - and then fired them all the day after the vote, well... How damning is that? Despite Condren's insistence that everything is "business as usual"...there's a better chance of winning the lottery than ever seeing a $250 million colossus built in Atwater. There's no money. Condren has some valuable land -- from which he'll still probably get out with a profit -- but there simply are no more serious investors for a monstrous racing complex that was completely crazy from the start. The entire deal has been turned on its head -- no shock if you look very hard at Condren's business history -- but the big question in Merced County is what happens now. Shepherd and good-faith investors like Johnny Nolind, Ron Cortez and Mel Andrews...were conned into believing that Condren had $180 million at his disposal, and a result they have been burned -- financially, emotionally or both. The key from the beginning was that notion of a giant complex costing a quarter-billion bucks never had a chance. He admits to being attracted to Condren's dreams... Sadly, Condren either was in dreamland or cynically manipulated his partners -- and the only reason he agreed to develop RMP a stage at a time was to get everyone on board for the supervisors' vote. Once he got it, everybody was thrown overboard within 24 hours. Shepherd said..."Basically, I came to the conclusion that we could build something that would benefit this area and that if it were done right, you could expect revenues in the range of $2 million per year. What you have to wonder now is what will be left when the smoke clears, the rubble is removed and Condren's $250 million pipedream is officially declared dead. Who knows if something sensible can grow up on Condren's property, or whether it will have to be somewhere else? Expect plenty of angst, name-calling and various lawsuits before the RMP catastrophe can be sorted out. Once we wade through that quicksand and Condren is off to turn his charm on another community offering fresh money, however, Shepherd and his many friends will remain right here. Whatever happens with Condren -- and no matter what people wind up thinking of him -- this thing still could have a happy ending. For the good of our community, I truly hope so.

New book ranks Merced fourth worst place to live in U.S....Leslie Albrcht

A new book rating the desirability of America's cities has ranked Merced at No. 370 out of 373 places nationwide. Gainesville, Fla., topped the list, and Modesto finished dead last in the 2007 edition of "Cities Ranked & Rated" by Bert Sperling and Peter Sander. So what is it that makes Merced a scores cities in 10 categories, including quality of life, cost of living, job prospects, education, health care, climate, crime, commute times and leisure activities. Merced...has a "perfect storm" of poor stats in educational attainment, unemployment and crime, coupled with a high cost of living, said Peter Sander, a co-author of the book...scant 10.9 percent of Merced's population has a four-year college or graduate degree...housing prices appreciated 155 percent between 2002 and 2006... Merced is a "diamond in the rough," Sander said. And no, he doesn't say the same thing to all the cities with low rankings. "Based on the university and the location, Merced has more potential to rise in the rankings than other Central Valley cities,".... With proper planning and more investment in downtown, Merced could be the next Davis, a city that gracefully made the switch from ag hamlet to university town, Sander said.

Distrust sunk Measure G...Roxanne Farley, Atwater...Letters to the editor

...Galgiani-come-lately for not supporting Measure G, as if a politician not yet elected had the juice to sway elections. Get real. Merced County has not been able to pass any sales tax measures for more than 12 years...two main reasons for this. First, anti-pay-your-share, anti-tax Republicans are opposed to taxes and the average Republican doesn't care that some local yokels have developments pending and want citizens to pay for roads to their fancy housing or shopping developments. They are also too shortsighted to admit that everyone drives the roads and should all share the burden of maintaining them...don't care that our county will get the short end of the funding stick when it comes to Caltrans because we are not a self-help county. Second, citizens don't trust the supervisors or county administrators to spend the money how they say they will. We have an administration that gives special favors, awards, deals to relatives and friends...have an administration that consistently gives themselves and upper management raises while laying off employees and cutting services...have an administration that wastes money on public relations staff to write their speeches and help themselves get re-elected. So quit whining unless you get off your chair and vote to change things.

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Clods at the wheel

Submitted: Apr 21, 2007
The California Transportation Commission distributed $975 million of the fund, created when voters approved Proposition 1B in November. San Joaquin County received $282.4 million...San Joaquin County's share is the biggest. Among regions through which Highway 99 runs, only Merced County landed nearly as much, with $248.3 million. -- Stockton Record, 3-16-07

They haven't even learned yet how to project in public anything but blind greed by fleecing the people. It is their only tune.

Merced Sun-Star editorialists opine that if Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, had only supported Measure G -- to raise our sales taxes to pay for the UC Campus Parkway, Highway 99,and maybe some other things (in that order) -- she would have a better chance to get funds for a G Street underpass beneath the railroad tracks on the north side of Merced. The clods then go on to analyse Galgiani's inner mind, claiming she opposed Measure G not to appear to be a "tax and spend liberal" while facing a "weak" Republican opponent. The only problem with that critical link in their argument is that Gerry Machado was an unexpectedly strong opponent. He worked hard, campaigned intensely and was a credible candidate.

I've reconsidered what I earlier wrote about this editorial, which strikes me as nothing but sour grapes and refried Gingrich babble. Three measures on this subject have failed. The last one, Measure G, failed more than a month before the Board of Supervisors passed the Riverside Motorsports Park project, designed to bring in up to 50,000 spectators from 100 miles around for major auto-racing events. Maybe business, political and media leaders who supported it at crucial times should not have approved it without a better grip on where the funds for transportation improvements would come from. It's like building subdivisions all over the state without checking to see if there really is enough water or not.

Bill Hatch

Merced Sun-Star
Fighting an uphill battle...Our View

Newly minted Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, has spent a good portion of her time in Sacramento fighting tooth and nail for funding for a railroad underpass at G Street in Merced. But we can't help but wonder: Where was Galgiani on this issue last year? Instead of fighting for passage of Measure G, which would have just about paid for an underpass, Galgiani was opposing it out of fear her weak Republican challenger would brand her a tax-and-spend liberal. We didn't understand the wisdom of Galgiani's thinking on the Measure G topic back then -- and we still don't today... doubly puzzling given most prominent area Republicans were solidly behind Measure G. Its narrow and devastating defeat possibly could have been averted if political leaders like Galgiani had galvanized behind it. Now, she's fighting an uphill battle for funds that are more likely to go to counties that have passed their own self-help tax increases like Measure G would have done for us. For our sake, let's hope Galgiani is successful. If so, she will have taken a step to redeem herself among the vocal Measure G supporters who were angered by her opposition.

Stockton Record
Transit bond funds approved

The county's bid for more than a quarter of the $1 billion bond fund dedicated to improvements on Highway 99 was approved Thursday.
The California Transportation Commission distributed $975 million of the fund, created when voters approved Proposition 1B in November. San Joaquin County received $282.4 million...San Joaquin County's share is the biggest. Among regions through which Highway 99 runs, only Merced County landed nearly as much, with $248.3 million.

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A Plague of Big Shots

Submitted: Mar 24, 2007

submitted by Bill Hatch

Big Shots are found everywhere in American society. So, viewing them from the San Joaquin Valley of California, once a great agricultural area now mindlessly converting itself as fast as violation of environmental law and regulation and common sense permits to another Western slurb, is as good a place as any to observe Big Shots.

American society is plagued with Big Shots, people that have gotten to some position of power through an excess of aggression, which they use to bully others. The rest of us all too often take the bullying in stride, hoping for a better day or, under the relentless onslaught, cave and grow permanently afraid.

All Big Shots have some self-righteous ideology, fundamentalism or doctrine to shout down at the rest of us from their positions, just a little above us one way or another.

The self-justification can be anything from “good work habits” to “the war against global terrorism.” All of it is a smoke screen for big-mouthed little cowards playing authoritarian games, throughout the sick institutional structure of this nation – from the orchard and tomato field to the packing shed to the city council to the school to the development corporation and the oil company to the White House.

We sit and read and hope somehow the “We the People” of the high-school texts will miraculously manifest that mythical unity We are said to possess to get the Big Shots off our backs, without risking anything. But, there is too much power, too much money floating around America, too many weapons in obedient hands and way too little human dignity left to stop this imperial cannibalism that is devouring millions of people in our imperial way – the toll rising, unabated by weak political resistance within the empire’s “homeland.”

Americans now confuse order and government in the “homeland” with bullying and being bullied. We elect a majority of Democrats in Congress to stop the war and their “leadership” blows us off in favor of the military contractors, the oil companies and the Israel lobby. But, will the public stand up to them? Call them by their name: hypocrites, sanctimonious bribe-takers, hacks and buffoons? Sue them? Prosecute them? Call their propaganda by its name?

America is a frightened, ruthless, unjust and ugly society full of denial and a guilt growing too large to measure, let alone accept. More than 600,000 Iraqis are dead because of a 30-year political “vacation” taken by the citizens of the USA, culminating in this atrocity. Our health care system is broken because America does not care about its people’s health. Top American political leadership is sociopathic because it serves at the pleasure of transnational corporations with no commitment to anything but their profits and the destruction of government regulation rather than the people and law. But the people are too besotted with corporate propaganda to know their rights, their interests and how to defend either. Yet, the US is losing “the war against terrorism” for the same reason it long ago lost the “war on drugs”: the Big Shots are too corrupt to win a war or stop the carnage of this one. Or rebuild New Orleans. Or save our environment. Or even put a dent in global warming.

Big Shots dominate our federal, state and local legislatures and our media corporations. The political situation in America is, in fact, much more critical than most Americans can imagine. There are entire institutions, vital to a functional society that have dropped off the map of the civilized world because they have been so rotted out by the greed of special interests, bribery and corruption. A small example, that will be familiar only to the very few remaining candid souls living in rural America, will be this year’s Farm Bill, which will demonstrate again that the Department of Agriculture is so corrupt it cannot identify national interest or even farmers’ interests. Likewise with the Food and Drug Agency, that has made unwitting guinea pigs of the entire American society and any foreign markets for our crops too stupid or oppressed to avoid it for the free, unregulated experimentation of the health effects of genetically modified organisms. Resource agencies charged with enforcing environmental law and regulation are daily corrupted by development corporations. Agency-by-agency, institution-by-institution, where can we find one that is working for the People? As glad as we may be made by tidings of churches, with congregations 10,000 strong, doing incredible feats of community outreach and care, can they replace a government that is supposed to serve 300 million people and is not supposed to be owned by transnational corporations?

American universities promote those character traits of sycophantic aggression prized by the corrupt corporate power elites that fund research for private profit rather than public benefit. High school dropouts, unlike the PhDs that staff the nation’s national laboratories, are not recorded to have produced American weapons of mass destruction that menace the world. These weapons aren’t the products of education; they are from its simulacrum, the university/corporate technology/military complex. To these must be added the “independent experts” whose regular gigs are at the brothel think tanks.

As ever, on the cutting edge of military technology, the Pentagon now conducts war by hurling immeasurable (at least by its accounting) tons of pork at the enemy, possibly hoping to crush him under the sheer weight ham and bacon. While the Pentagon appears to have crushed our side, the insurgents have long ago gone on to their own civil war.

Jake Plummer is outraged over the treatment of Pat Tillman: They knew it was friendly fire then–it makes you sick

By: John Amato on Friday, September 15th, 2006 at 4:15 PM - PDT
On HBO’s Inside the NFL, Peter King interviewed Denver QB Jake Plummer about the horrific treatment the Tillman family have received over Pat’s death. There have been four investigations into what really happened to him and now a fifth one is getting close to being completed. How reprehensible has this been for the Tillman family? Pat is killed and they were repeatedly lied to. The family is not speaking out, but Plummer is. Good for him. Somebody has to.

Video-WMP Video-QT (rough transcript)

King: When you first heard that they hid these irregularities, were you outraged?

Plummer: It just made you feel kinda sick that they’d cover up something like that to–for whatever reason. We were all led to believe he died in leading his troops up the hill and then they come tell us it wasn’t–it was friendly fire. What can you do– you’re at their mercy and you just feel for the family…

I mention Big Shots only because there might be lingering in the American collective unconscious – that immense psychic ocean of all that is suppressed and ignored – some residual folk memory of resentment against Big Shots. Perhaps a residual sense of the political taste that caused people to fight to the death against the British so many years ago. However, it is probable that Americans, after 30 years of corporate propaganda, have been so overwhelmingly persuaded of their unique brilliance, success and that Beautiful Freedom we all enjoy, that they all conceive of themselves as Big Shots, entitled citizens, above the masses. In our area, the masses are imagined by our fictitious Big Shots to be foreigners, Mexicans and Asians and such. Casual observation suggests, however, that when Americans, convinced of their Big Shot status, are muscled by the equally convinced, the former group – rather than getting down to political realities – tends instead to develop a severe case of the vapors. “How dare they!” etc. Generally, their croquet balls are carefully aimed and demurely stroked at a non-lethal local official, in no position to help or to harm, simply one more minor Big Shot on his or her way up or down the ladder to Big Shot Heaven. Missing the target amounts to an alliance with one’s own gravedigger, but if one doesn’t know that, there is not point in bringing it up.

“Use it or lose it,” voter registrars used to mutter in front of supermarket doors at the feckless passers-by. They didn’t use it and they did lose it. Everyman the Big Shot, on his way into WalMart, was above mere voting.

The proper American hero of today is Yossarian, the terrified WWII bombardier of Catch-22. When you tell the truth to power, power will fire back. Yossarian wasn’t crazy. Fighting fascism is dangerous work. But, having allowed this unaccountable, authoritarian power to take root on the ground, it must be defeated even though it fights back. That would take courage and spirit, and probably fewer vacations. But, of course, Catch-22 was just a funny novel written 50 years ago, which said some rather off-message things about the “greatest generation.”

Our local McClatchy Chain corporate outlet is a Big Shot with barrels of ink that is never off-message. The Chain is part of the immense advertising/public relations empire in charge of controlling our taste, distorting all issues with one aim – the destruction of a truly public perspective in favor of the very private, “special” perspective of the private profits of their paymasters and their social equals in the Club de Big Shots. In the San Joaquin Valley, the McClatchy Chain relentlessly attacks the San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement, reached between local, state and national environmental groups and farmers and local, state and federal water agencies. The idea of accord between agriculture and environmental groups is an abomination to McClatchy advertisers – principally real estate development, finance and insurance – and they cannot allow this agreement to live, which would put Sierra snow melt back into the state’s second-longest river all the way to the Delta. To this destructive end, the Chain has taken to quoting every inane utterance of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, a bullyboy for corporate agribusiness welfare. The Big Shots the Chain does not name, who are bankrolling Nunes’ attack on the settlement, are smoother and worse.

The Big Shots intend to protect their power and their wealth. That’s all they have to say now, and all they ever had to say, millions of barrels of ink ago. Where’s the “Progress”? What did agribusiness, built on federal water, crop subsidies and low wages, really accomplish? Where is the quality in those islands of wealth surrounded by poverty and economic anxiety? What was the ideal served? Where is the happiness?

Do we live to buy what we don’t need to keep corporate CEOs in the style to which they have become accustomed, averaging 300 times higher compensation than the median income of their employees? Do we live for the fame of having invaded and destroyed already crippled nations to plunder their resources? Do we live to support and applaud or suffer in fearful silence the fraud and corruption of predatory plutocrats? Were we born to become the generation that forgot the difference between news and advertising? Is our purpose in life here in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere to stand at attention and sing hymns of praise to the destroyers of the Public Trust and the builders of grotesque slurbs – just because Big Shots have the “freedom” to do it?

Is this nation’s destiny freedom for Big Shots and the shaft for the rest of us?

“Of course not, of course not,” I hear you saying.

I end in communion with the great Dodge City lawman, Bat Masterson, who went on to a distinguished career as a New York City sports writer. He wrote:

There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us. I have observed, for example, that we all get the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter. -- Bat Masterson

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Pombo's Ghost haunts the McClatchy Chain

Submitted: Nov 10, 2006

Our questions this evening for the McClatchy Chain's Washington correspondent are:

1) Didn't the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Commerce and representatives of 15,000 Friant irrigators settle with local, state and national environmental organizations on the question of letting water flow in the San Joaquin River again on behalf of the Chinook salmon, which is listed as a threatened species under the Engandered Species Act?

2) Hadn't the spring run of Chinook on the San Joaquin River been entirely wiped out in the 1950s as the result of drying up a 60-mile stretch of the river downstream from the Friant Dam and the Friant-Kern Canal?

3) Since when did Rep. RichPac Pombo, Realtor-Tracy, give a damn about that river, those fish, the San Joaquin River settlement agreement, or the ESA?

4) At least the way the Chain's DC correspondent wrote the story when it was happening, wasn't it Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA (whose reelection this year passed almost unnoticed in the revolt of the people against fascism) who put the little Valley congressmen together and made them pass a bill to fund part of the settlement?

5) Isn't Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, now chairwoman of the Senate Enviroment and Public Works Committee?

6) Won't Feinstein's fellow San Franciscan, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, soon be the Speaker of the House?

7) Didn't the federal district court just reject the latest assault on the critical habitat designation under the ESA for 15 endangered species living in and around vernal pools, the richest fields of which lie in the congressional district of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Pombo's Ghost-Merced?

8) Hadn't Pombo's Ghost written two unsuccessful bills to wipe out the critical habitat designation?

9) Haven't San Francisco Democrats known how to handle what are now called Blue Dogs since the days when Assembly Speaker Willie Brown put Assemblyman Gary Condit in a broom closet in the famous "Gang of Five" affair?

The doubts this story casts over the prospects of getting a bill through to partially fund the settlement has the fingerprints of the Modesto and Merced irrigation districts and Westlands Water District all over it, transmitted to the Chain's DC fabulist by Cardoza. While Democrat West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, to be the new chairman of the House Resources Committee, is unlikely to listen to Pombo's Ghost, wouldn't he be likely to listen to three extremely well placed Democrats from the San Francisco Bay area, all with demonstrable records favoring the environment, including the state's second longest, worst polluted river?

The only Valley congressman that performed any positive role in the settlement at all was Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, whose district contains the Friant Dam, Lake Millerton and the beginning of the canal. The McClatchy Chain clobbered Randanovich for his constructive role and applauded Pombo's Merced Ghost and the irrigation districts for attempted obstruction. Meanwhile, Rep. Devin Nunes, Rightwing Raver-Visalia, failing to impeach the federal judge who heard the case, howled on in Mcclatchy pages at the top of his lungs while his constituents quietly faced reality.

Cardoza gambled away his future the day he walked out of developer Fritz Grupe's Lodi ranch, arm-and-arm with Pombo, the man he then called "Mr. Chairman," and split a reported $50,000 with him of developer cash. The next thing we knew, the Pomboza, as we called them then, had fashioned the "aggressively bipartisan" bill to destroy the Endangered Species Act. The special interests then cleverly gave Cardoza a free ride to another term, hoping the Blue Dogs would still have some leverage. They won't. All Cardoza is now is Pombo's Ghost.

The feds are even looking at Merced County's Voting Rights Act violations now. We welcome any and all investigations into activities in the Merced County Administration Building, where Pombo's Ghost has his district office. Cardoza is all that's left of the powerful machine that railroaded through the UC Merced boondoggle and erected a splendid stonewall around Mad Cow Disease.

That machine -- "Honest Graft" is a good working title for it -- corrupted every environmental law and regulation and agency it could lay its sticky fingers on for the special interests of developer. Not content with environmental law, it corrupted every public process it could at the local, state Legislature and Congress level for the benefit of the same few special interests. This Honest Graft Machine brought us the worst air quality of any major farming area in America, a river -- the San Joaquin -- that has become an agricultural waste channel for almost 100 miles, reckless urban sprawl, mounting urban debt, and gigantic losses of some of the most productive agricultural land in the world. And the Honest Graft Machine did everything it could to obstruct the San Joaquin River settlement negotiations and attacked the agreement through the McClatchy Chain the moment it was signed.

So, to repeat, what makes the McClatchy Chain figure Pombo -- heir of Pombo Real Estate Farms in Tracy and, until two days ago, chieftain of the Honest Graft Machine -- would do or would have done anything to help the San Joaquin River settlement? This is an absurd news story.

Badlands editorial staff

Fresno Bee -- Nov. 9, 2006
Environmentalists happy to be back in the national conversation...Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau
The "Western rebellion" that propelled California Republican Rep. Richard Pombo to power now has receded, leaving many of its most important goals unmet and possibly beyond reach. Democrats will run the House Resources Committee, which Pombo has led for the past four years. That will mean new priorities for parks, public lands and Western water. It could mean less attention to a proposed San Joaquin River restoration in California's Central Valley. The Western rebellion, also known as the Sagebrush rebellion, involves people in the West who think the federal government oversteps itself on property rights issues, especially regarding enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. They also chafe over the fact that half the West is owned by the federal government instead of private interests. The probable new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. She's one of the Senate's most liberal members; the current chairman, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, is among the most conservative. The changing cast of characters will play out in many ways: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil-and-gas drilling perennially championed by House Republicans won't go anywhere in the next Congress. Drilling off the coast of Florida or other states becomes a real long shot. The Endangered Species Act, which Pombo built his career on combating, has a new lease on life. The Democrat who's poised to become House Resources Committee chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, voted against Pombo's Endangered Species Act legislation. As a lame duck, Pombo will have much less clout in moving the legislation that's needed to implement a multihundred-million-dollar San Joaquin River restoration plan. The legislation, yet to be introduced by Mariposa Republican Rep. George Radanovich, is needed to finish settling a long-running lawsuit that would return salmon to the river. Backers of the San Joaquin River plan had hopes of getting the bill introduced and passed during the upcoming lame-duck session; that now seems remote.

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Not invited to the funeral

Submitted: Nov 10, 2006

The Badlands Journal editorial staff has few opportunities to defend the honor of the Merced Sun-Star. But, fair is fair. A working girl's got rights, too. On Primary Election night, the Sun-Star committed an act of photojournalism. It took a picture of Jesse "The Crestfallen" Brown, director of Merced County Association of Governments and manager of the failed Measure A campaign. Brown's face expressed bewilderment and despair in a painful moment of political defeat. But the special interests behind the measure to raise sales taxes to pay for the UC Loop Road, maybe the Los Banos By-Pass, and at least for the potholes in front of Brown's office, plunged fiercely forward with a new campaign in the General -- Measure G. As predicted by the campaign's own polling, Measure G also failed. The Sun-Star worked as diligently for both measures as an escort service in duck season. But, it's not good form to invite the party girl to the funeral.

From the Sun-Star's blog, "Sunspot":

Nov. 7, 2006
Speaking of Measure G ...
Submitted by Joseph Kieta, Merced Sun-Star editor

Each election night, Sun-Star reporters and photographers patrol various political parties to get photos and talk with the winners and losers. Just about every newspaper does this ... they're not the most exciting photos and the comments can be predictable, but sometimes we get something surprising and interesting for you, our readers.

Don't expect to see a photo out of the Measure G party. Jennifer West, the Measure G campaign manager, said the gathering of supporters will be held at a private home (we hear it's her house) and a Sun-Star reporter and a photographer are only welcome if Measure G wins.

Nov. 9, 2006
Measure G not likely to come back soon...Leslie Albrecht
If Merced County votes on a transportation tax measure again, it probably won't happen until the country selects its next president...2008 is the earliest. Measure G, which failed Tuesday, was the third version of a transportation tax that voters have decided on in the past four years... earned 60.66 percent of the vote, falling short of the "super majority," or 66.7 percent, approval it needed to pass. "I think obviously we need to do a better job of education," Spriggs said. "We need to do a better job in the next couple of years of educating folks." Whether voters will see the measure again is up to the Merced County Association of Governments governing board... All five county supervisors and one elected official from each of the county's six incorporated cities serve on the board. But the public will have a chance to weigh in too, said Jesse Brown, executive director of MCAG. Starting early next year, MCAG will hold a series of public workshops to update the transportation expenditure plan, the document that lists the county's top transportation priorities. During the transportation plan's 2001 update, public input drove the decision to pursue a transportation tax ballot measure and the long list of projects the tax would fund, Brown said. Now the public will be asked to help form a new plan that doesn't include the sales tax as a funding source, Brown said.

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Submitted: Jul 23, 2006

It’s fitting to speak of mirages when the Valley gets this hot.

The political mirage of the week, in the wake of former Merced County DA Gordon Spenser’s spectacular fall that ended in Bear Creek a week (just before a mysterious fire in the DA department’s offices), was the set-to between developer Greg Hostetler (Ranchwood Homes) and Supervisor Deirdre Kelsey at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, exhaustively detailed below by the local press.

There is nothing like a juicy scandal. However, the whole thing was inevitable and is probably not the biggest political scandal waiting to unfold in Merced County.

All this drama, and the press and political obsession with making it all personal and a matter of integrity and reputation, is a waste of time and nothing but a scintillating diversion from the problem.

When urbanization comes, farming goes. It is a cold-blooded, ruthless process driven by the long-range planning of one small group, developers, and their profit taking. Everything else, including the reputations of particular developers and particular politicians, so engagingly showcased in this case, is a sideshow. Yes, it is flamboyantly Merced that the DA and the sheriff would have been partners in a deal to buy an advantageously placed land parcel from an inmate of the county jail indicted for attempted bribery of a police officer, who ended up serving six months instead of nine years. Yes, the peculiar blend of arrogance, stupidity, greed, and possibly actionable behavior is what we have come to have a perfect “right” to expect from “leadership” in Merced County.

Furthermore, we are not holding our breath in expectation that either Spenser, Pazin, Hostetler or any other members of the Bellevue Partnership (purchasers of the inmate’s land) will ever be indicted for anything, by Attorney General Bill Lockyer or the newly appointed DA, Larry Morse, II. Lockyer’s connections with Merced and Spenser are deep -- for instance, he has appointed two not one but two former Merced law enforcement officials to the top investigative position in the state Department of Justice -- and Morse has his own political career to look after. It is even a question how much further this investigation will go, if any further at all, because of what else might be found and who else, among the county’s “good old boys and girls” would be implicated in backroom land deals.

When the county “leadership” committed itself and the rest of us to becoming home to the University of California, Merced campus, it set in motion a speculative real estate boom that has laws of its own, not all of them legal, if you get the distinction.

There used to be another such informal law, in politics, that was pretty widely observed between the end of WWII and the election of Ronald Reagan as governor, and even the Reagan people mostly observed it. The idea was that the people would accept an ambition for political power and they will accept an ambition to get rich, but they will not – at least would not – accept an ambition for both in the same politician. The combination was felt to violate the public taste, which can lead to disasters now befalling Spenser and perhaps others soon to follow here in Merced County.

Another informal law from that bygone epoch was that an office holder was expected to be able to drink with people attempting to influence his vote, accept their political contributions and even their prostitutes, and vote against them the next morning.

Today, it is nauseatingly obvious here in the big speculative land boom that the loyalty of local, state and federal legislators representing Merced County has been sold to developers. You see it week after week in local land-use decision after decision, at the state level in the new Valley partnership for growth, and in Congress Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has introduced three bills in three years tailor-made to streamline the sale of farm and ranchland to developers and urbanize this area over the dead body of the Endangered Species Act and the species it is designed to try to protect.

All the protestations of personal insult, damage to reputation, even allegations of danger to a supervisor in the board chambers (because Hostetler called her out on her own profound conflicts of interest), are nothing but a Punch and Judy show. Anyone who has ever articulately opposed a board of supervisors’ or city council’s position in Merced County has received worse abuse from supervisors and council members than Kelsey received from Hostetler. One recalls grimly, former Supervisor Cortez-Keene’s McCarthyite interrogations, for example. More recently, board chairman Mike Nelson’s nasty response to any criticism and supervisor John Pedrozo’s belligerence toward it are equally fondly recalled. So, the public doesn’t buy Kelsey’s political vapors anymore than it buys Spenser’s memory loss.

The law in Merced County is that the most aggressive developer wins, period, whether it’s done crudely, as the scofflaw Hostetler does it, or more smoothly as larger, richer competitors of Ranchwood Homes do it, or with the elegant disdain of UC Merced, which steadfastly denies it is a developer at all while being the largest developer in the county. What is called “planning” in the county amounts to accommodation to development. Political competence consists of making sure developers agree to pay all legal expenses the county might incur as the result of lawsuits arising from their land-use decisions, which frequently violate aspects of the California Environmental Quality Act and laws of public process.

“Planning” in the county is a complete joke. The county has not updated its General Plan since before UC Merced was even contemplated and has chosen the route of simply amending it whenever necessary. It’s present face reminds one of members of Davy Jones’ crew in Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, with the university launched and the speculative boom gyrating out of control, local land-use jurisdictions are planning new general plan and community plan updates here, there and everywhere.

Even this tardy diligence is grudging and is planned to take about as long – as best it can be guessed – as the boom itself continues to its bust. The best thing for the public interest that could be done is to have a building moratorium while these updates, particularly the county general plan, are being done. When confronted with a public statement, signed by a coalition 15 local and regional groups, urging a moratorium, the supervisors voted for business as usual.

Whose interests do they represent?

Bill Hatch

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

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

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

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

Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge VernalPools.Org
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers


Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.
P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

Merced DA under fire for 2004 land deal
He, 7 other investors made deal with a man facing bribery charge
By Chris Collins
Merced Sun-Star

Last Updated: July 9, 2006, 05:20:05 AM PDT
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the district attorney's office.

The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer's potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry in December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator.
The attorney general now is looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler and five other prominent locals bought in 2004.

The owner of the farmland, former Merced College police chief Richard Byrd, was arrested in March 2004 for bribing a sheriff's deputy. His bail was set at $500,000.

Byrd said his imprisonment forced his security company to go out of business and prompted his daughter to sell his land to help pay for attorney fees and other expenses.

Prosecutors in Spencer's office were working on a plea deal with Byrd in May 2004 when Spencer and the other investors pitched their offer to buy the land, according to public records and property sale documents Byrd provided.

Investors close deal

The investors, organized under the Campodonica Trust led by Merced real estate agent Carl Campodonica, closed the $1.3 million deal on the land July1, 2004. Byrd was released from jail 15 days later.
Frank Dougherty, the Merced County Superior Court presiding judge, said he has looked into the case and found that Spencer was "intimately involved" in pressing felony charges against Byrd.

It also is clear from property sale records that Spencer knew he was buying land from the man he was prosecuting. One document shows Spencer's and Pazin's signatures next to Byrd's name.
When the purchase went through two years ago, it drew little attention. But concerns about the deal have resurfaced in the wake of multiple investigations launched by state and local agencies examining Spencer's use of grant funds and county dollars.

The attorney general's investigation of the land deal could lead to extortion charges against Spencer.
Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor who specializes in white-collar crime, said Spencer's decision to pursue the land deal while prosecuting Byrd was "unbelievably bad."

"If the district attorney said to the defendant, 'I'm going to charge you with crime X, but if you reduce the price on your land, I'll give you a better deal,' then, boy, you could talk about extortion," Weisberg said.
Byrd said he never was approached by anyone from the district attorney's office while he was in jail. But he said he originally was told through his lawyer that he was facing nine years in state prison.

Byrd gets sentence reduced

After Byrd's daughter accepted the Campodonica Trust's offer to buy the land, Byrd was offered a plea deal that reduced his sentence to six months of county jail time.

Byrd also said he wonders why his $500,000 bail never was reduced.

Spencer did not return calls last week seeking comment. His Merced attorney, Terry Allen, said the attorney general's investigation is based only on "speculation."

"I assure you Byrd wasn't coerced into doing anything and Gordon wasn't doing anything to gain some advantage over him," Allen said.

Most of the other seven investors who were part of the Campodonica Trust either didn't return calls or said they didn't want to comment.

Hostetler, a local developer, said he joined the investment group at the last minute to help provide a little extra money needed to seal the deal. He said he didn't know Byrd was the seller.

Sheriff regrets joining group

The attorney general's office won't acknowledge it's investigating the land deal, but Pazin and Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse II said two investigators and a deputy attorney general have interviewed them as witnesses about the property purchase.

Pazin said that, at the behest of Dougherty, he sent a letter to the attorney general a few weeks ago asking his office to look into the land deal.

The sheriff said that when he joined the Campodonica Trust he didn't see a problem with entering the land deal. But he said he now regrets joining the investors.

Pazin said he didn't realize he was buying land from Byrd, who was in the custody of the Sheriff's Department at the time, until the final stages of the deal.

"Is there anything neglectful that I did? The answer is no," Pazin said.

"But is there a perception issue? Yes. And I accept that."

News that Spencer bought the land from a man he was prosecuting has roiled some county supervisors.
"The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish," Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said.

"I'm surprised that a transaction like that would occur."

Merced Sun-Star
Land deal rhetoric flares up...Leslie Albrecht
Tension about recent press coverage of former District Attorney Gordon Spencer's land deal with Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and other prominent locals boiled over at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday when Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler harshly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey. Hostetler is one of the investors who bought land from a man while he was in jail being prosecuted by Spencer. During the meeting's public comment period, Hostetler leaned over the podium and read a statement that first refuted information in the Sun-Star story, then accused Kelsey of making "uncalled for comments." Hostetler said a Merced County civil grand jury investigation into Kelsey's family mining business five years ago left Kelsey in no position to pass judgment on others. This isn't the first time Hostetler and Kelsey have clashed. In March a voicemail message reportedly left by Hostetler was posted on the Web site Badlands Journal. In the message Hostetler accused Kelsey of using county staff members as her "personal pit bulls" to attack his employees.

Kelsey fires back in strongly worded letter to chairman
By Leslie Albrecht
July 21, 2006

The fire of controversy ignited when developer Greg Hostetler publicly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey is heating up.

Kelsey fanned the flames with a letter to board chairman Mike Nelson saying that she felt afraid for her safety when Hostetler read a statement about her during the public comment period at Tuesday's supervisors meeting.

"I am extremely disappointed that NO ONE intervened appropriately to stop the personal attack coming at me from the podium," Kelsey wrote in her letter to Nelson.

Kelsey's letter also says Hostetler used the "county forum as a means to personally attack me and my family."

Hostetler called Kelsey's letter a "mischaracterization" of what happened at the meeting.

"It would be my opinion that Deidre has overreacted, is acting childish, and is spinning the truth," said Hostetler.

He called for Kelsey to resign immediately because of the findings of a 2001-2002 Merced County civil grand jury report that investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company.

Hostetler's comments at the Tuesday meeting were a response to a Sun-Star article about a land deal Hostetler made with former District Attorney Gordon Spencer, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, and other prominent locals.

Hostetler, Spencer, Pazin and others bought the land from a man who was in jail awaiting prosecution by Spencer. The State Attorney General's office is investigating the deal.

Kelsey was quoted in the article saying, "The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish."

At Tuesday's meeting Hostetler called Kelsey's comments "inflammatory and unprofessional."

He held up a copy of the 2001-2002 grand jury report -- which investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company -- and said that Kelsey had engaged in "unethical conduct."

The jury's report accused Kelsey of having a conflict of interest involving her family's mining business. Kelsey told the Sun-Star in 2002 that the report was the work of "a good-old-boy network" upset because she did not bow to economic special interests.

Kelsey said Nelson, as chairman of the meeting, should have stopped Hostetler's speech because he was harassing and haranguing her and "looking with hostility directly at me" and "leaning forward towards the dais."

"I demand to be provided with a safe workplace and I believe the law provides for the safety of elected officials while engaged in county business," the letter said.

Kelsey's letter asks that "this issue be resolved either through some action of (Nelson's) or through the collective actions of the Board policy immediately."

Nelson met with County Counsel Ruben Castillo on Thursday and asked him to provide a legal opinion about whether the supervisors can restrict public comment.

A state law called the Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings, said Castillo, so any county policy would have to be in line with that law.

"I have a constitutional right to speak at a public forum," said Hostetler. "The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech.

"I will not be silenced. I live in America, not in Baghdad."

Nelson's seat on the supervisors' dais has a button that controls the microphone on the public podium. He said his role as chairman is to turn the mic off if a member of the public becomes disruptive.

"If I thought any member of the public was getting out of hand I would have asked for the sheriff to step in, but that wasn't the case," said Nelson.

Kelsey also faulted Sheriff Pazin and Undersheriff Bill Blake -- who were both in the audience during Hostetler's comments -- for not intervening during Hostetler's speech.

But Blake said he and the sheriff attend supervisors' meetings as participants, not police.

"I don't know what she wants us to do," said Blake. "I can't arrest him for being mean to the Board of Supervisors."

He added, "He didn't swear, he didn't threaten, he didn't yell ... I can't get up and say 'Greg you're breaking the law', because he's not. In fact, I would be afraid that a civil libertarian would think I was infringing under color of law on his free speech."

Kelsey said Hostetler's comments at the meeting caught her totally off-guard.

The meeting's original agenda included a ceremony where Kelsey was to receive a pin honoring her 10 years of service on the board, but the ceremony was postponed.

Instead, Kelsey found herself on the receiving end of Hostetler's criticism.

She said all elected officials can expect criticism, but Hostetler chose the wrong setting.

"That's the elbows and knees aspect of being in politics," said Kelsey. "However, in a public meeting doing county business is a different matter.

"There's a different set of expectations when I'm out and about in the community than when I'm sitting as a supervisor on the dais."

Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at 385-2484 or

Controlling speech at meetings and the Brown Act

A state law called the Ralph M. Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings. The California First Amendment Coalition's Web Site includes this question and answer about limits on public comments.

Q: How far can an elected body go in controlling what speakers say in their comments?

A: In creating an opportunity for citizens to address a legislative body, the Legislature has created what is described in First Amendment jurisprudence as a limited public forum.

It is limited in the sense that speakers may be held to subject matter relevant to the meeting (or at least the agency's role) and may also be restricted by reasonable rules of time limitation and good order.

But, concluded the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the First Amendment would not permit officials presiding in a public forum of even this limited scope to outlaw comment simply on the basis of its being offensive -- "personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane."

What they may do is react to actual disruption, which in the context of a government meeting can mean simply wasting time to the detriment of all others present.

Board of Supervisors transcript

To view or listen to the meeting, check the Board of Supervisors Web site:

HOSTETLER: Good morning, everyone. My name is Greg Hostetler, 2000 M Street, Merced, California.
I am here today because of my concerns about recent events. I would like to say several things this board and public should know.

I am speaking for myself and not the Bellevue Partnership.

The real estate transaction involving Sheriff Mark Pazin and District Attorney Gordon Spencer was negotiated, signed and agreed to between two business professionals and the seller Mr. Byrd and his daughter.

Neither Mr. Spencer and Mr. Pazin had any negotiations as to the price, terms, and conditions of the purchase from Mr. Byrd. If anyone of the Board of Supervisors would like to see the contract I would be more than happy to show you.

I believe that the purchase contract was professional and ethical.

The property was listed with a Merced real estate company and placed on the MLS, Multiple Listing Service, for approximately 30 days or longer for all members to sell, which is around 700 sales people in the Merced area.

One offer was received for $1.1 million from a potential buyer. The seller countered, Mr. Byrd, with a $1.4 million counter offer. The counter offer was declined by the buyer.

The next offer was received for $1.3 million was presented to Mr. Byrd by two Merced professionals, and it was accepted by Mr. Byrd. Subsequently portions of the buyer's interest were sold to other individuals in Merced, including the sheriff, including myself and a number of other partners and the district attorney. Because the seller wanted an all-cash transaction at $61,000 an acre, which is in the county. The property adjacent to it, two months earlier, sold for approximately $36,000 an acre. It has been reported that the land was annexed and rezoned. That is incorrect.

Several local investors and business professionals felt it was not a good enough investment so they declined to purchase a share.

I think hypothetical comments without the facts about the transaction are uncalled for such as those made by Stanford law professor and comments made by Deidre Kelsey.

They are inflammatory, unprofessional, and do not show the leadership qualities this county needs.

I think Deidre Kelsey's conduct is unethical on a number of issues. One being the operation of the mine of the Kelsey property in Snelling which has been the subject of a former grand jury investigation and it was reported that it had been operated for at least six years and failed to pay county road taxes ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler ...

HOSTETLER: ... and operating in a fishing business without county ordinance permitted ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler.


NELSON: I would ask you to confine your comments to not attacks on board members please.

HOSTETLER: It's open public I can talk about the grand jury investigation ....

NELSON: I understand that ...

HOSTETLER: ... and I'm going to talk about it.

NELSON: Well you have a minute and four seconds.

HOSTETLER: That's fine. And I understand that. There's an ongoing investigation I understand to the operation of the mining there now and hopefully it will not go unenforced like the last time according to the grand jury report. Thank you.

(Kelsey left the chamber during Hostetler's comments. After Hostetler was done, she returned and sat down.)

KELSEY: If people bring things up that pertain to myself or my family in this forum I will recuse myself from the public forum at that time. And you can see I did leave and I have now come back.

(At the end of the meeting, each supervisor makes a report. Nelson's included the following comments.)

NELSON: I have nothing to report necessarily, but I did want to say, you know we always welcome people to come make comments during public opportunity to speak, but it's nice when people don't make personal attacks. It's just not, really, it's just not appropriate. That's all I have to say.

DA still in hospital
By Scott Jason
Last Updated: July 13, 2006, 01:38:01 AM PDT

The Merced County district attorney remained in the hospital Tuesday night with short-term memory loss after a rollover crash Monday night, his attorney said.

Terry Allen, Gordon Spencer's attorney, said he called Spencer as a friend to check his condition.

"He can't remember anything from two to three days ago," Allen said, adding Spencer can't recall the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Spencer was taken by his wife to Mercy Medical Center Merced after the wreck. He could not be reached for comment.

The California Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation into the crash, though it doesn't look like any charges or citations will be filed, Public Information Officer Shane Ferriera said.

The district attorney, who was wearing a seat belt, was driving alone on South East Bear Creek Drive at about 5 p.m., Ferriera said.

Spencer was a mile east of McKee Road when he apparently didn't follow a left curve and plunged his truck into the creek.

He did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Ferriera said.

A 35 mph sign is posted just before the turn. The CHP is not sure if Spencer was speeding, Ferriera said.

A man who lives near the crash site, Dan Smith, and his two children found Spencer and helped him call his wife. Assisting people who drive their cars into the creek is nothing new, Smith said.

"We treated him and did for him what we've done for a dozen other people," Smith said.

Smith's 9- and 12-year-old sons were tubing down the creek when they found Spencer's truck upside down at 5:30 p.m. Only the wheels and undercarriage were visible above the water.

They told their dad, who thought the truck was abandoned because people have stolen cars, stripped them and dumped them in the creek, he said.

When the two boys went back to get the Ford F-150's license plate number, they saw Spencer waist-high in the creek leaning against the bank.

Smith's 12-year-old son asked if Spencer needed help, and said the district attorney mumbled he didn't.

The son went home and told his dad there was a man in the creek.

After seeing the kids, Spencer crossed the creek and started walking toward Smith's home, about a quarter-mile from the crash, Smith said.

Spencer, wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, told Smith he was OK, and that he was driving, missed a turn and wrecked his truck.

There weren't any signs the district attorney was drinking or under the influence of drugs, Smith said.
"He acted like someone who had been in an eye-opening wreck," he said.

Smith recognized Spencer as the district attorney and brought him to his house to make a call.

"He was fine and talking with no apparent injuries, except an abrasion on his face from an air bag," Smith said.
Spencer called his wife from Smith's phone, and she took him to the hospital at about 6:30 p.m. She reported the crash to the CHP at 8:10 p.m., Ferriera said.

Leaving the scene and seeking treatment, as Spencer did, is not uncommon in single-vehicle wrecks with minor injuries, Ferriera said.

"It's not like it was a hit-and-run," he said.

The investigating officer interviewed Spencer at the hospital and tested him for driving under the influence.

Ferriera said the test includes looking for the smell of alcohol, slurred speech or red, watery eyes.

Ferriera said he did not know if Spencer was given a breathalyzer test.

The Merced County Sheriff's dive team checked the truck to make sure there weren't any other people in it. After 11 p.m., tow trucks removed Spencer's truck from the creek.

Timeline of the wreck

5 p.m. -- District Attorney Gordon Spencer rolls his Ford F-150 truck into Bear Creek.
5:30 p.m. -- A neighbor and his kids find Spencer and let him use their phone to call his wife.
6:30 p.m. -- Spencer's wife picks him up and takes the district attorney to Mercy Medical Center Merced.
8:10 p.m. -- California Highway Patrol officers are called about Spencer's crash. The investigating officer goes to the hospital to interview Spencer and test him for driving under the influence.
11:15 p.m. -- Tow trucks remove Spencer's pickup from the creek.

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