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

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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

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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.

| »

Public Letter from Central Valley Safe Environment Network to the McClatchy Company Officers and Board of Directors

Submitted: Jun 23, 2006

Central Valley Safe Environment Network

P.O. Box 64
Merced, CA. 95341

Senior Officers of The McClatchy Company

Gary B. Pruitt - Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer
Heather L. Fagundes - Vice President, Human Resources
Christian A. Hendricks - Vice President, Interactive Media
Karole Morgan-Prager - Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary
Patrick J. Talamantes - Vice President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer
Howard Weaver - Vice President, News
Robert J. Weil - Vice President, Operations
Frank Whittaker - Vice President, Operations

Directors of The McClatchy Company

Elizabeth A. Ballantine
Leroy Barnes Jr.
William K. Coblentz
Molly Maloney Evangelisti
Larry Jinks
Joan F. Lane
Brown McClatchy Maloney
Kevin S. McClatchy
William McClatchy
Theodore R. Mitchell
S. Donley Ritchey
Frederick R. Ruiz
Maggie Wilderotter

2100 Q Street
Sacramento CA 95815

P.O. Box 15779
Sacramento 95852

Tel. (916) 321-1855
Fax (916) 321-1869 Via: Email and Fax

Re: Public Letter from Central Valley Safe Environment Network to the McClatchy Company Board of Directors

Date: June 23, 2006

McClatchy Officers and Directors:

In late April, Merced residents complained to you about a racist column by regular Merced Sun-Star columnist, David Burke, that appeared during a highly inflammatory period of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on undocumented workers in the county.

At that time we asked for an apology from McClatchy for allowing a column to be printed that was an insult to the entire Hispanic community during a period when it is under mounting racist pressure.

To date, we have received no apology from the board or the Sun-Star.

We did receive a telephone message from Lynn Dickerson, vice president for operations, explaining that we had just misunderstood the satire, irony and sarcasm. We also read Sun-Star editor, Joe Keita’s editorial, which followed the same line – a lecture on irony.

We have waited, patiently, for nearly two months for some sign of community sensitivity from the McClatchy corporation, as patiently as we have waited for years for competent journalism from our city’s newspaper.

The Merced Sun-Star has steadily disengaged itself from the community of Merced since the arrival of UC and its induced development. We had hoped that once McClatchy bought the paper, we would get competent journalism in our rapidly changing county. Instead, the McClatchy Co. local organ has continued to ally itself with the propaganda of special, outside, exploitive interests. Worst, it substitutes cheap sideshows for solid news people in Merced County need – often desperately – to know. It is an untrustworthy newspaper.

In the days following his literary offense against an 18-year-old high school girl incarcerated at an ICE facility in Bakersfield, Burke tried several strategies to explain himself. His attempt to appear on a local Spanish-language radio station was refused. He asked Le Grand High School administrators (where the 18-year-old was attending school before her arrest) if he could come out to talk to the students. The administrators asked the students. The students said they did not want to hear Mr. Burke’s explanation. The administrators relayed the message.

Surely, the second largest newspaper chain in America, based in Sacramento, knew by late April that rightwing Republicans were going to make illegal immigration from Mexico a big campaign issue in the 2006 elections. Its Minneapolis paper is only a stone’s throw from the Wisconsin congressional district of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, author of HR 4437. Surely, McClatchy added the Merced Sun-Star to its holding because it was aware of the speculative real estate boom unfolding due to the arrival of UC Merced. How could the McClatchy organization not have known about the on-going, heavy development pressure on rural eastern Merced County, home of a large number of the county’s farmworkers and focus of the ICE raids in April. Certainly, a news organization as huge and sophisticated as McClatchy could figure out that the pressure on illegal Mexican immigrants in this part of the Valley is directly tied to escalating real estate values and developers’ plans for that region, which include icing farmworkers and endangered species as quietly as possible.

Into that explosive situation, the second largest newspaper chain in America injected this schmuck, Burke, this “former journalism professor,” and his “irony.” When we objected, we got an official explanation of irony instead of the simple, honest apology for a management oversight, which you owe this community and refuse to offer.

We are still waiting for that apology to our community for this insult. We live in one of the most ethnically diverse communities in America. We all make it work and this highly inappropriate column insults all of us, regardless of our ethnicity. When you insult the race and status of our neighbors, when you support (however “ironically”) policies that frighten people in our neighborhoods, you harm everybody. Just because McClatchy chooses to ignore – ostrich style – its insult to our community does not mean that the insult is forgotten. However, even at this point, a sincere apology might help.


Central Valley Safe Environment Network


Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 11:06 AM
Subject: Merced sunstar article

Hi, My name is xxxx xxxxx and I am just asking for help. On April 22 there was an article put into the merced sun star by a David Burke a journalist . I was truly offended , I happen to personally know Alma Osegueras older sister Christina and could not believe what this man wrote but, most of all I cannot believe that the merced sunstar would allow such racism . I am disgusted with this newspaper . I don't really know what I can personally do. can the residents of Planada and Le Grand start a petition to get this man terminated or what ??? I don't know if your office handles things like this. I am just so angry at the merced sun star and I can tell you as a resident of Planada I'm not the only one. Please help..

Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 9:39 AM
Subject: RE: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star

In case you haven't had a chance to read the Sun-Star this morning attached
is Joe Kieta's column as it appeared in our paper and on our website.
Hank N. Vander Veen
Publisher-The Merced Sun Star

Merced Sun-Star
Column wasn't meant to offend...Joe Kieta

David Burke was appalled by the strong-arm tactics U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents recently decided to write an ironic column that took the extreme opposite side in an effort to point out what he feels is the senselessness of the agency's actions. Unfortunately, some readers missed the irony in the column -- and for this we truly are sorry if anyone was offended. If used skillfully, a tongue-in-cheek comment or column can effectively crystallize an opinion; if the irony is missed, readers can be confused or outraged by the comments. ...some took his comments literally. ...he received an e-mail hours after it appeared applauding him for the extreme views. He since has received many more messages from readers who missed the irony. Burke's worried the column creates an incorrect perception that he's bigoted and insensitive. He wants to set the record straight: ...
For our part, the Sun-Star will be more careful in the future to make sure satirical columns are clearly labeled as such, which will eliminate any confusion. We could have labeled Burke's column accordingly, but didn't -- and for this, please accept our apologies.

Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 12:46 AM
Subject: Saturday's Sun-Star column...

I have received a lot of feedback regarding my column from Saturday’s edition of the Sun-Star. I understand that you found the article to be offensive and that you’ve formally complained to officials of the McClatchy Corporation on behalf of the Central Valley Safe Environment Network.

My intention with this piece was to use irony and sarcasm to draw attention to attitudes and actions that I believe are cruel, unfair, insensitive and un-American.

Irony, as you know, is a technique in which a writer, or speaker, makes a statement that is opposite to their beliefs. This incongruity can have a dramatic effect when combined with sarcasm, as I attempted to do in the commentary.

A problem with irony is that some readers may take statements literally and believe that the intended message is actually its opposite. I clearly failed to craft this piece skillfully enough to make the irony clear to some readers.

For the record, let me say that I abhor the treatment of Alma Oseguera and her family at the hands of immigration agents. I believe raiding their home at 3 a.m. is the kind of behavior that we expect from secret police or government thugs in other countries, but not in the United States.

I do not believe that U.S. citizens are “more equal” than people from other nations and I despise racism and discrimination.

I hope you’ll take another look at Saturday’s commentary. A second read might reveal that my use of hateful language was intended to get the attention of good people who have become polarized and now view immigrants unfairly. My hope was that by exaggeration I might open some eyes and force people to look at the impact current policies are having on individuals like Alma.

Finally, I have a track record with the Sun-Star and I believe my body of work provides clear evidence that I am an advocate for children and for causes that are completely inconsistent with racism and intolerance.

I invite you to take a look at back issues of the paper. One article that may be particularly revealing is still posted online. You may choose to visit the following site:

I hope you will reconsider your position regarding my column or at least accept that my intent was not to promote racism. Though I may have missed the target on Saturday, a dialogue has begun and I believe the end result may still be enlightenment. I hope you’ll participate in the discussion and that you’ll continue to read the Sun-Star and my column.


David Burke

Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 10:50 AM
Subject: Quepasa News
Merced Newspaper Article

The following is an article published by the Merced Sun Star. It is very disturbing and in the "Gray" area of Hate Mail. It was written by a retired journalist. A group called Central Valley Safe Environment Network has responded to the McClatchy Newspaper Company. I will print their response at the next QUEPASA NEWS.

Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 8:40 PM
Subject: Letter to The McClatchy Company re: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star

Wow - hard to believe they would publish that crap!
Juan de la Rana-Salta

Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 3:28 PM
Subject: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star
Re: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star
Date: April 25, 2006

McClatchy Officers and Directors:

We write you to protest the publication on Saturday, April 22, 2006 of a column by a regular contributor to the Merced Sun-Star titled “Liberty, opportunity are for Americans only.”

Speaking as citizens of Merced and for citizens of the San Joaquin Valley and of the United States, we will not tolerate racist smears of 18-year-old high school girls in our newspaper; we will not tolerate our newspaper publishing its contempt for an entire ethnic minority; we will not tolerate a vicious attack on a person little more than a child without any means of defending herself, presently in a Border Patrol holding tank in Bakersfield; we will not tolerate our newspaper bullying the weak and defenseless.

We are not asking for or demanding the immediate dismissal of the publisher and the editorial staff of the Merced Sun-Star that published this racial slander and libel against a high school girl. We expect nothing less than their dismissal and an apology from the McClatchy board for publishing material with racial hatred content intended to intimidate and incite.

This newspaper has entirely lost contact with its community and with decency.

Merced Sun-Star, April 22, 2006
Weekend voices: Liberty, opportunity are for Americans only

The Central Valley Safe Environment Network is confident McClatchy officers and directors will do the right thing in a timely manner, removing the “leadership” of this newspaper, which increasingly over the last decade become a source of unjust speech and propaganda.

Central Valley Safe Environment Network

Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 3:23 PM
Subject: Sun-Star article Weekend voices
By David F. Burke
Last Updated: April 22, 2006, 03:31:08 AM PDT

Get out of this valley, Alma Oseguara. Maybe after a few weeks in a Kern County jail you'll finally understand that we don't want you and your kind here in the San Joaquin Valley.

Never mind that you spent the last 12 years attending school here, and were weeks away from graduation at Le Grand High School. You and your bleeding-heart classmates need to understand that we expect you to obey the law of the land.

Even six-year-old illegals have to play by the rules and because you entered our country without permission when you were six, our agents were perfectly within their rights to "target" you and to bang on your door at 3 in the morning, demanding that you pack your bags and go directly to jail.

And don't start that old song about escaping from Mexico to get away from an abusive father, Alma.

Do you think we're the kind of nation that would welcome the wretched refuse of another country? Do you think we want more homeless, tempest-tossed masses of tired and poor people like you? Does our border look to you like some kind of golden door?

Forget that idea. We stopped holding the torch for your kind of immigrants long ago.

Liberty and opportunity are for Americans only. Did you imagine that we were talking about Mexicans when we said, "all are created equal?" Get real, Alma. Say goodbye to Le Grand High, to dreams of college and to friends and relatives you've known for a dozen years.

Bienvenidos a Mexico.

Let me explain how it works, Alma. My son looks a bit like you; he has the same skin tone. But Jesse had the good sense not to be born in Mexico - he was born in New Mexico.

About 300 years ago, his ancestors, named Garcia, came through Texas -- well, it may have been "Tejas" then -- and up into northern New -- I mean Nuevo -- Mexico and southern Colorado.

Then, 150 years later, my ancestors picked a fight with Mexico. We first tried to get what we wanted peacefully, offering our neighbors to the south $25 million for California. But the ignorant Mexicans thought the state was worth more than that.

So, we sent two armies into Mexico and a third to California, by way of New Mexico. The silly Mexicans refused to surrender, so we captured Mexico City and "convinced" our captors to accept just $15 million for the Golden State. The vanquished Mexicans threw in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Utah - about half of their country, all told - for free.

And that, Alma, should explain why my brown-skinned son -- who was born in New Mexico -- gets to stay while you -- who were born in Old Mexico -- must leave.

It's not personal. It's the law. If you like, you can think of it as manifest destiny.

Now, get out of my country. And don't come back until you are legal.


Hank Vander Veen
Publisher, Merced Sun-Star

Joseph Kieta
Editor, Merced Sun-Star



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

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After another week of flak

Submitted: Jun 11, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, there is the effortless repetition of flak in the local press.
Merced Sun-Star
Measure A: Road fixes to take longer...Leslie Albrecht

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

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

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

Another example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hatch

Published on Thursday, June 8 2006 by the Center for Media and Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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