Merced County

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

Submitted: Feb 14, 2006

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

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK

MISSION STATEMENT

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

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

| »

Jack-hammering the Castle wall, II

Submitted: Feb 13, 2006

ORDINANCE ESTABLISHING CASTLE REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY

Bryant Owens
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550 (209) 769-0832

Monday, February 13, 2006

To:

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340 ` Via fax (209) 726-7977

And via email: dist 1-5 @ co.merced.ca.us etc.

RE: Request for continuance of these items to a later public hearing.

RE: Public Hearing Feb 14, 2006 et seq/ Establishment of an Ordinance of the County of Merced Establishing Agency and adopting Redevelopment Plan for the
Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center Redevelopment Project

RE: CEQA required notice of public hearing

RE: Feb 10 non-responsive written answers by county counsel to written public comments submitted 1-23-06.

RE: Establishing common definitions for “REDEVELOPMENT”, “BLIGHT”, and “INDEMNIFICATION”.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are in receipt of written responses to 27 comments (as enumerated by county counsel) derived from our previous letter to the board regarding this agenda item. According to the final paragraph of the document sent to us, the answers to the specific comments are to be presented to you at the Board meeting of Feb 14th 2006. It should be noted for the record that these comments were received under protest by staff that this was ‘last minute’ and were somehow not meritorious because of timing.

While we appreciate that the county has responded at all to public comments, we note that this response letter was mailed Friday Feb 10th 2006 prior to a holiday weekend immediately preceding the next scheduled board of supervisors meeting.

In light of the county’s decision to respond at the last minute, and then to entertain these items on Tuesday Feb.14th, 2006 we respectfully note that the county’s previous angst over the public’s insistence on its ability to participate in a ‘public process’ seems both hollow and contrived.

In anticipation of similar calumny being offered to the press regarding the public’s purported ‘tactics’ in overseeing the County Administration, we ask an impartial audience to suppose how the public could possibly process and respond any faster regarding our concerns over the propriety of the county proceeding with this process.

The county must not distinguish between the concerns of the public who pay their salary through taxes and concerns of financially invested developers who can afford to pay the county to look the other way. This sort of cherry picking with regard to official responses by the county, to legitimate concerns of the public regarding expenditures coming from the county purse cannot be condoned any longer. There must not be a double standard in the ‘public process’ whether or not such concerns are over potential environmental impacts or gross fiscal mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds.

We are therefor submitting this request (to continue the above items to a later meeting) by fax on an official holiday, during which the county is officially closed and as soon as was possible to do so! To clarify further, we make this request in order to give the public the necessary time to assess the county’s reply and because we were not given the courtesy of receiving a copy of the staff’s report to the board on this matter. There simply has not been any time allocated to make any further refinements to our previous comments in light of those responses from the county.

Addressing failed communications between the supervisors and the county staff is of equal importance to us as members of the public, as the substance of the offered comments, and the putative responses thereto. There must be sufficient time and proper notification by the County, of the board’s intended actions (beyond the merely administrative functions of the county) in order properly to address those issues.

No effort was made to disabuse the media of its previous misperception of the ‘public process’ regarding this proposed ordinance however, the county is once again abusing the public’s right to participate in this process by failing to give timely notice in the legally prescribed manner that they intend to adopt an ordinance with a CEQA component.

While it was gratifying, while reading through the responses to our comments, to see evidence that at least one other official of the county had actually read through the Report to the Board of Supervisors (the report which prompted these referenced comments in the first place) there remains a chasm of misunderstanding between the contextual setting of the proffered comments, and the textual references regurgitated from the same report as putative ‘answers’ to those referenced comments.

County counsel has, in most instances therein, merely restated the authorities under which the board had originally intended to adopt the ordinance, cited above, establishing the existence of a Redevelopment Agency, et cetera, for the Plan area.

These authorities were not questioned in our previous comment! Simply restating that the supervisors have a certain legal authority to follow a particular path from A to B does not in and of itself give the public any more information on which to determine, decide or intelligently debate whether or not taking such a path is in the best interests of the county purse. As for establishing common definitions of words and phrases, the term ‘public hearing’ carries with it implicit expectations by the public to which the counselor’s ear seems particularly deaf. We fully intend to further address the counselor’s responses to our comments in later correspondence; hence the need for continuing this item clearly exists.

What is clear from the county counsel’s responses is that “staff”, on whom the board relies for decisions such as this, would readily recommend applying for grant money to teach pigs how to sing, if it in any way secured yet another government subsidy. (Although such a subsidy might even be appropriate given the ‘historic’ agricultural basis of Merced County’s economy, it is offered as a preposterous and profligate example of administrative behavior, unacceptable to the public who has elected this particular administrative body!)

The concerns raised by these commentators are meant to address the disturbing trend in Merced County Administration towards blatant and uncritical adoption of what is becoming widely knows as “Win-win Public/Private Partnerships”! This sort of welfare entitlement mentality on the Administrative level is fraught with opportunity to misappropriate and misspend staggering amounts of public funding with little chance of public oversight because of flaws in the process by which such funds are encumbered and subsequently accounted for.

A very pertinent case in point is the very concept of delaying the CEQA review process of this project by 18 months. The authority to make this determination was not questioned by these commentators however the needs analysis process (listed merely as findings) that gives such a decision, by the supervisors, the pretended urgency that has been described in the previous board agenda item paperwork, remains in and of itself opaque to the public.

Such a decision to delay CEQA review of a project must also be subject to proper notification and public hearing; this has not been properly documented. We therefore must respectfully request that you defer any further consideration of the proposed Ordinance until such time as the needs of the citizens of the County are clearly enumerated and whether such a proposed delay of the environmental review process is necessary or pertinent in light of the county’s citizens’ needs!

(At the very least, the public needs must be distinguished from the supposed needs of the board of supervisors and those sycophantic parties whose job security depends on guiding the supervisors down this particular path, whether or not such activity is technically legal according to the federal guidelines cited in county counsel’s reply).

With regard to the Environmental Impact Statement adopted by the County of Merced in 1996 in response to the closure of Castle AFB, we find that the context of the project both at the proposed site, and in the surrounding areas have changed substantially and significantly and that such changes have rendered such document unsuitable as an analytic tool from which to tier subsequent environmental review, especially environmental review of ‘projects’ under California Law (CEQA).

There seems to be some confusion in the county’s mind that it is appropriate to tier supplemental CEQA environmental review off of a 10-year-old document prepared under federal guidelines (NEPA). While the concept underlying such environmental review is common to both processes, the federal and state review processes are not interchangeable. Of course counsel knows this but perhaps the subtlety of comparing apples with oranges escaped the board’s notice somewhere in the sheer volume of the county counsel’s reply to these public comments.

The county should be properly chastened for allowing the city of Atwater to suck the marrow from Castle AFB’s rotting bones, prior to the dissolution of the joint powers authority which exercised land use authority when that city was busily retooling its housing market and the overall marketability of the intervening residentially developable land formerly identifiable as housing for Castle AFB staff and families.

It would seem that the city most ‘blighted’ by the closing of Castle has already rebounded with a will, approved annexed and developed abundant upscale housing, and has successfully attracted a major supply of ‘guest residents’ who appear for the most part to be employed outside of Merced County.

Now the county wants to do something about attracting industry to this empty shell left behind by the USAF, and the illuminati of Atwater’s land use authorities. Without putting too fine a point on the situation, the horse is already out of the barn. The Redevelopment funding the county is seeking to attract is being pursued under the basest of intention. To put it more clearly, the county is seeking government pork to dole out to specific non-profit corporations and private entrepreneurs of their own choosing. There are neither readily available raw material nor suitable workforce to make such redevelopment economically feasible.

There would not necessarily be anything wrong with trying to alleviate blight in Merced County, however, the various cooperating/participating agencies whose funding would flow into Merced County through the proposed ‘blight alleviation’ have widely divergent definitions as to what constitutes ‘blight’.

In the case of Castle AFB Redevelopment Plan, it is not at all clear to the public when analyzing the Kayser Marsten report to the Board, that efforts undertaken with the state’s money will ever provide any suitable return on such investment, or that any such return would even remotely resemble the benefits envisioned in the State’s Redevelopment Act law.

Conclusions presented in counsel’s response to our comments, and in previous staff reports to the board of supervisors present as bare fact that redevelopment will alleviate blight, and if saying so made it true we would have no grounds for concern. Admittedly this ‘Plan’ contains a laundry list of proposed projects for which the anticipated redevelopment money will certainly provide some benefits, but the beneficiaries, seem to be corporate entities, rather than natural persons inhabiting Merced County.

There is no evidence that this redevelopment is part of an overarching plan that will provide any long-term financial stability for the county of Merced on the order of the former USAFB. All of the component parts of this plan seem to be perfectly portable as individual business entities, and therefore do not represent a prudent investment of state funds in this county’s hands.

Given the county’s extensive history of turning a blind eye to discrepancy between the intent of government funding streams and their ultimate expenditures in Merced County, the public remains unconvinced that this project is in the best interests of the county in General. There is no question that some entrepreneurs may benefit from the expense of public monies to upgrade the existing infrastructure at the former Castle AFB, but that still doesn’t establish that ‘blight conditions have been alleviated.

County counsel’s responses to comments number 3 and 7 are illustrative of the administrative schizophrenia evident in allowing the board of supervisors to designate themselves as a Redevelopment Agency for a particular set of parcels of unincorporated Merced County. In response to comment 3, counsel establishes that the purpose of redevelopment is to redevelop the project area, not to cause a general benefit to the County at large. And in reply to comment 7, that, ‘there is no mechanism nor is it the goal to proportionally [sic] distribute the benefits of redevelopment throughout the County”.

This is an amazing admission with regard to the public’s expectations regarding the role of the persons elected to supervise the county! Given that this same administrative body (in establishing a massive Williamson Act Preserve in 2000 essentially coterminous with virtually all unincorporated land within Merced County) adopted and embraced the State Legislature’s findings that farmland was vitally important to the people of California, it could be fairly argued that the ‘redevelopment’ goals in any portion of that preserve are in fact counter productive an ‘blighting’ of the agricultural value of the land so designated.

This is merely one example from a plethora of conflicting goals and policies of the County of Merced that tend to demonstrate how fundamentally flawed and out of date, the county’s general plan really is. Making decisions as to the relative value of disparate programs with conflicting goals and implementing measures is impossible and in many cases clearly illegal. Without having an internally consistent and current General Plan in place, this decision concerning the Castle Redevelopment Plan is entirely suspect.

Counsels claim that the county intends to continue to administer economic development and other housing programs countywide utilizing HUD funds, Enterprise Zoning, Community Development Block Grant funding, and other funding sources and incentives as available and applicable presupposes a continued lack of public oversight of the administration of such programs in this County. It would be unwise to assume that the public will remain inattentive to the previous abuses of these funding sources.

The ‘moral turpitude’ of the previous District 1 Supervisor, Gloria Keene, is now a matter of public record with regard to filing of fraudulent claims. Other abuses of civil and administrative process are still under the purview of the courts, both State and Federal. The county of Merced’s involvement with the private non-profit Planada Community Development Corporation is of particular concern to the public insofar as the interaction between public and private entities in that unincorporated portion of Merced County, which were facilitated through the District 1 supervisor have blurred the distinctions and responsibilities of what should be clearly separable land use authorities and financial interests, in this County.

Not to seem flippant about this penchant of the board of supervisors for wearing a multiplicity of hats simultaneously, it should be pointed out that haberdashery often produced dementia and insanity in those practicing such a trade, hence the term “ mad as a hatter”. This situation was a direct result of failing to mitigate for the significant environmental impacts (chemical exposure) implicit in the process of molding felt into various shapes. In a similar fashion, there will be economic consequences down the road for misappropriation and incompetent accounting of government subsidies already encumbered by Merced County, and disproportionate scrutiny of any future funding requests if the county (or Agency) as described in response to comment No. 12, fails to maintain an ‘excellent’ rating with regard to the issuance of bonds, etc.

The response to Comment No. 12 concludes thusly, “The purpose of the Foreign Trade Zone and AN objective of the Redevelopment Plan are to attract businesses to an area and create additional jobs”. Once again, these commentators must point out the conflicting nature of the goals and implementation measures inherent in ‘being’ an agriculturally based economy, struggling to artificially force the creation of ‘additional jobs’ with no underlying source of raw material or labor force. The county’s goals and policies are clearly at odds with the realities of the situation ‘on the ground’ in Merced County, and a fundamental shift away from an agricultural based economy must be subject to intense and competent public discussion and yes, even debate.

The board has a demonstrable history of proceeding on a course of action in spite of public opposition to the decision. This calls into question the practice of allowing parties with vested financial interest to proceed with plans or ‘projects’ clearly beneficial to the project proponent to ‘indemnify’ the county from the legal recourse available to Merced County’s citizens. This concept of ‘paying to play’ is neither new nor subtle; it is merely abusive of the entire concept of public review and oversight of elected administrative officials.

To conclude: The board is faced once again with a list of possible action items.

· Uncertainty remains with regard to the official definition of the words ‘blight’, redevelopment, and indemnification.

· There has been inadequate response to the public comments on the Castle Redevelopment Plan Ordinance, and

· The public has no confidence with regard to the staff’s recommendations regarding the process of amending the county general plan.

The public has a right and expectation of full disclosure with regard to the disposition of public funds. Inherent in the process of such disclosure is the entire concept of a ‘public process’. There remains much to be considered before the board can competently render a fully informed decision with regard to the above referenced items.

We respectfully request that the ‘public process’ be more complete and certainly more transparent before the board takes any further action on these items.

Sincerely,

Bryant Owens,

Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced, CA 95340-9550
(209) 769-0832

Cc:

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center- Lydia M. Miller, President

Protect Our Water- Steve Burke

The Planada Association

Badlandsjournal.com – Bill Hatch, Editor

Other interested parties

| »

Ranchwood in the news

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006
    2006

2-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
Groups Aim to Stop Sewer Line Construction ...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11781260p-12500357c.html
Environmental groups want Ranchwood Homes to halt construction on a sewer line in Livingston, according to a letter released Monday.The San Joaquin Raptor Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, and Planada Community Development Corp. say that Livingston shouldn't have approved construction of the sewer line because the project is on county land.
"The city of Livingston should not have given Ranchwood any authority to do anything out there," said Bryant Owens of the Planada Community Development Corp. "Ranchwood needs to stop what they're doing and come back to the county and get an annexation."
The mile-long sewer line between Vinewood and Magnolia Avenue could eventually connect a proposed 420-acre Ranchwood Homes subdivision to Livingston's wastewater treatment plant.
The environmental groups say the sewer line can't go in until Ranchwood gets permission to annex the land, meaning that the land would be brought into Livingston's city limits.
But Livingston has been following the rules, according to Interim City Manager Vickie Lewis.
"We followed every regulation that was required of us," said Lewis. "We have only gone as far as phase one, which is our only responsibility at this time. Anything beyond that is between the county and (Ranchwood)."
Ranchwood has received three encroachment permits from the county so far, but the county won't issue any other permits until the county responds to the environmental groups' charges, said Development Services Director Bobby Lewis ...
Ranchwood Homes officials could not be reached for comment.

1-27-06
Merced Sun-Star
Annexations OK'd; city grows by nearly 200 acres...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11736481p-12459428c.html
MERCED - Two Merced annexations gained final approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission on Thursday morning and a third was tabled until next month. • The Ranchwood N Street Annexation • And the Mission Avenue Annexation. LAFCO commissioners held off on approving the Barnell Annexation, a 73 acre swath south of Cardella Road. That annexation
proposal will be discussed at the next LAFCO meeting on Feb. 23.

1-26-06 LAFCO
http://web.co.merced.ca.us/lafco/pdfs/agendas/01262006.pdf
VI. PUBLIC HEARINGS (Testimony limited to 5 minutes or less per person)
A. Ranchwood Annexation to the City of Merced – File No. 0622

1-24-06
Merced Sun-Star
Loose Lips: Land baron becomes local celeb...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11724259p-12448018c.html
When Merced land baron Greg Hostetler isn't donating fists full of money to his pet charities, "Mr. Ranchwood Homes" is giving away his John Hancock. Hostetler, arguably the county's most successful homegrown developer, said he was stopped recently by a man who wanted his autograph.

1-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
Session to tackle city's effort toward affordable homes...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11714888p-12438920c.html
LIVINGSTON -- New housing is popping up all over town, but how many residents can actually afford it? Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler said forcing developers to keep prices low can backfire by driving up the cost of market-rate units. Hostetler said inclusionary housing ordinances are relatively new to Valley cities... Livingston is looking at inclusionary housing..

    2005

11-16-05
Merced Sun-Star

Livingston OKs draft of city in 2025...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11486665p-12225871c.html
The council unanimously approved a draft project description of a Master Environmental Impact Report...the consultants writing the impact report now have a map of where Livingston intends to develop and a timeline for when it will get there. ...representatives from Ranchwood Homes and Gallo Homes, both of which are planning large subdivisions in Livingston, urged the council to move forward. Both Ranchwood and Gallo are paying for most of the consultants' work on the city's new impact report.

10-19-05
Merced Sun-Star
Added funds propel Livingston Master Plan...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11369021p-12116135c.html
Funding is now in place to create Livingston's new master plan. With the presentation of a check for $155,760 to the Livingston City Council at last night's meeting, developer Ranchwood Homes provided the last portion of funds need to create the new plan. Two other developers, Gallo and Del Valle, have already made major contributions to fund the plan.

4-25-05
Merced Sun-Star
Development closer to reality...Adam Ashton
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/10373719p-11176985c.html
LIVINGSTON -- Two major subdivisions on the outskirts of town are inching closer to reality with a city analysis of their environmental impacts expected at the end of the year. The Ranchwood and Gallo plans together make up about half the number of homes Livingston has on its books now with a mix of more than a dozen other subdivisions. That's why the two companies are footing most of the bill for the city's new master plan and environmental documents.

2-3-05 Merced Sun-Star
Investigation unit was on move before board vote...Scott Pesznecker
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9885814p-10731412c.html
Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer was so confident the Board of Supervisors would OK a proposed move of his investigations staff that he had the office's employees pack up their desks before supervisors even voted Tuesday. The day after supervisors approved his plans, more questions surfaced about $16,000 in renovations to the new office space made before supervisors signed off on the move. Spencer also mentioned using the asset forfeiture
money at Tuesday's supervisor's meeting.
Merced County Auditor Stephen Jones said late Wednesday he couldn't find any records of money drawn from the county treasury to be paid to Hostetler, Ranchwood Homes Corp. or Ranchwood Contractors, Inc. However, there are two other funds Spencer has access to that do not need Jones' signature on a check, though they still need supervisors' approval. Schecter, who is
also an ethics professor at CSU Fresno specializing in local government, said the lease agreement could have been handled better from start to finish. "Ethically, I think there are some problems," he said.

2-1-05
Merced Sun-Star
County investigation unit's move raises questions...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9874084p-10720593c.html
Merced County supervisors are being asked today to terminate a lease with familial ties tothe district attorney's office in favor of a contract with a company that has business ties with the district attorney himself. The move won't financially benefit Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer or any members of his staff. However, it will benefit Greg Hostetler, president of Ranchwood Homes. Hostetler, Spencer and several other partners own about 25 acres on Bellevue Road that they hope someday to develop. Spencer acknowledges having both a friendship and business dealings with Hostetler, but says those bonds have no connection with today's request.

    2004

12-22-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9652113p-10536591c.html Adam Ashton...
Work can start on Livingsto sewer line...
The City Council and Ranchwood Homes agreed Tuesday night that the builder can proceed with its plans to place a 5,100-foot-long sewer pipe just outside of Livingston's sphere of influence at its southwest corner.

12-8-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9564250p-10454279c.html ...Adam Ashton...Developer gets tacit OK for sewer pipe...
LIVINGSTON -- Projections for growth on the city's outskirts look so good that one developer is ready tobuild a sewer connection for a project that won't
take shape for several years. Ranchwood Homes asked the City Council if it could move ahead with plans to build a nearly one-mile sewer extension south of Livingston for a planned 300-home development that is still in its concept stages. Council says it's his risk if homes don't win approval.

7-22-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/8882627p-9772671c.html ...Melanie Turner...Donation brings UC gym bit closer...
University of California, Merced, got off to a strong start with a
$500,000 donation from Greg and Cathie Hostetler, Los Banos developers of Ranchwood Homes for a gymnasium, featuring a NCAA regulation-size basketball court and seating for 480. The university plans to fund the recreation center in large part with a loan from the UC office of the president, which would be paid back in student fees, Wyan said. Gymnasiums, dormitories, dining halls and other nonacademic facilities cannot be financed with state money, Wyan said. Campbell said there likely will be intramural sports in the 2005-06 school
year, as well as sailing and other water sports at nearby Lake Yosemite.

2-28-04
Modesto Bee
http://www.modbee.com/2004/election/merced/supervisors/story/8190479p-9040645c.html 2-25-04
Candidate's poll raises questions about support
Lee Neves says it was an innocent mistakewhen he attributed an $8,500 polling expense to a political action committee instead of local developers...six contributors: Bert A. Crane Jr., a Merced farmer and rancher; Rucker
Construction of Merced; Ranchwood Homes of Los Banos; Trans County Title of Merced; Maxwell Enterprises of Merced, a construction and development company; and James Abatte of Merced, who owns a number of fast food franchises in the county.

2-4-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/newsview.asp?c=93758 Supervisors: Le Grand development may proceed...Ranchwood Homes

2-3-04 MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AGENDA

http://www.co.merced.ca.us/bos/boardagenda/current.pdf
10:30 A. M.
PLANNING - PUBLIC HEARING
Appeal of Planning Commission approval to approve Major Subdivision Application No. 03001- McPherson Subdivision submitted by Bryant Owens. Application submitted by Ranchwood Contractors to subdivide two parcels totaling 19.0 acres into 96 residential building lots on property located on the south side of Savanna Road and 580 feet west of Santa Fe Avenue in the Le Grand area.

1-21-04
Modesto Bee
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/8034324p-8897076c.html Los Banos builders busy trading lawsuits... Larry Anderson of Anderson Homes suing Greg Hostetler of Ranchwood Homes, his
former partner.

1-5-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/newsview.asp?c=89194 Board eyes meetings in evening...Merced County Board of Supervisors
Attachment:

Notice of Public Hearing...Feb. 3, 2004 Ranchwood Contractors

    2003

12-23-03 Merced County Board of Supervisors agenda

http://www.co.merced.ca.us/bos/boardagenda/current.pdf
10:30 a.m. PLANNING - PUBLIC HEARING
CONSENT CALENDAR (Items #1 - 25)
Board of Supervisors
16. Set public hearing for February 3, 2004 at 10:30 a.m. to consider an Appeal received by Bryant Owens to Major Subdivision Application No. 0300 - Ranchwood Contractors.

| »

Canada buys a brace of local legislators

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

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

Booze, finger-food and campaign contributions were served.

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

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

| »

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

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

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

Regular Meeting
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2005

Regular Meeting – 10:00 a.m.

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

Editor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryant Owens- Plainsburg (209) 769-0832

| »

Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston

Submitted: Feb 07, 2006

From:

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

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

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

To:

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

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

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

Brandon Friesen
Mayor
1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

Bryant Owens- ChairmanPlanada Community Development Corporation

Cc: Interested Parties

| »

Who bulldozed the Torres farm labor camp and why?

Submitted: Feb 06, 2006

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

From:

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

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

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

To:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Marzolf, Section Chief

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

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

Monday, February 06, 2006

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

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller – President Steve Burke,

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- Chairman

Planada Community Development Co.

Attachment: Draft EA Comments-2005

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

[1] Housing Authority Board of Commissioner minutes

[2] Comments on Draft Environmental Assessment 2005

| »

California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit in Sacramento

Submitted: Jan 14, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The California Rangeland Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

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

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

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

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

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

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD

Alameda County Board of Supervisors

American Land Conservancy

California Cattlemen’s Association

California Resources Agency

California Wildlife Foundation

Central Valley Land Trust Council

Bureau Land Management

Defenders of Wildlife

Butte Environmental Council

Environmental Defense

California Audubon Society

Institute for Ecological Health

California Cattlemen’s Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service

California Dept of Fish and Game

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

California Dept of Food and Ag

San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

California Farm Bureau Federation

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

California Native Grasslands Association

The Nature Conservancy

California Native Plant Society

Trust for Public Land

California Oak Foundation

US Fish and Wildlife Service

California Rangeland Trust

US Forest Service

California Resource Conservation Districts

VernalPools.org

Wildlife Conservation Board

| »

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

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

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

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
Modesto CA 95350

To: Mr. James Holland January 6, 2006

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

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

Dear Mr. Holland,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

cc: Interested parties
William Hatch, Badlandsjournal.com

| »


To manage site Login