Merced County

Canada buys a brace of local legislators

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

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

Booze, finger-food and campaign contributions were served.

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

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

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

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

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

Regular Meeting
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2005

Regular Meeting – 10:00 a.m.

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

Editor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryant Owens- Plainsburg (209) 769-0832

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Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston

Submitted: Feb 07, 2006

From:

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

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

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

To:

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

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

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

Brandon Friesen
Mayor
1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

Bryant Owens- ChairmanPlanada Community Development Corporation

Cc: Interested Parties

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Who bulldozed the Torres farm labor camp and why?

Submitted: Feb 06, 2006

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

From:

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

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

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

To:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Marzolf, Section Chief

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

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

Monday, February 06, 2006

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

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller – President Steve Burke,

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- Chairman

Planada Community Development Co.

Attachment: Draft EA Comments-2005

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

[1] Housing Authority Board of Commissioner minutes

[2] Comments on Draft Environmental Assessment 2005

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California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit in Sacramento

Submitted: Jan 14, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The California Rangeland Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

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

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

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

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

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

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD

Alameda County Board of Supervisors

American Land Conservancy

California Cattlemen’s Association

California Resources Agency

California Wildlife Foundation

Central Valley Land Trust Council

Bureau Land Management

Defenders of Wildlife

Butte Environmental Council

Environmental Defense

California Audubon Society

Institute for Ecological Health

California Cattlemen’s Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service

California Dept of Fish and Game

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

California Dept of Food and Ag

San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

California Farm Bureau Federation

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

California Native Grasslands Association

The Nature Conservancy

California Native Plant Society

Trust for Public Land

California Oak Foundation

US Fish and Wildlife Service

California Rangeland Trust

US Forest Service

California Resource Conservation Districts

VernalPools.org

Wildlife Conservation Board

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

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

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

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
Modesto CA 95350

To: Mr. James Holland January 6, 2006

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

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

Dear Mr. Holland,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

cc: Interested parties
William Hatch, Badlandsjournal.com

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Merced County League of Women Voters' dead questions office

Submitted: Jan 04, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its newsletter claims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HELP MAKE DEMOCRACY LIVE

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

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

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

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

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

Martha Fugate Pitman
Reprinted from the July 1951 Parents’ Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vroooom!

Submitted: Jan 02, 2006

A fine example of pro-racetrack poison penmanship appeared in the Merced Sun-Star on Friday. It is offered with a few questions in reply below.

Critics' motives are tainted

Editor: I'm getting very concerned with the ulterior motives of the few but very vocal detractors of the Riverside Motorsports Park facility. Much of what they write is conjecture; the rest is simply untrue.

What are the real reasons they push so hard against such a facility that can add millions of dollars in tax revenues that can then be spent on University of California, Merced, programs, working with RMP as a test lab, to solve some of the problems these people claim to represent? What are they really after?

Many are the same who opposed UC Merced. For that, I would say that RMP is keeping very good company. However they did delay UC Merced's opening for a long time, and when you Google some of the opposing organizations, all you get is a page full of lawsuits and out-of-court settlements. I haven't seen where any of that ill-gotten gain has been spent to solve water or air quality problems. I do see in the environmental impact report that RMP has a plan to save water. If some of our problems are solved, do the detractors lose a source of income?

They are even attacking backers now, claiming that backers are in it for the big bucks. I'm a backer, and I don't stand to gain a dime. We just want a facility that we can be proud of, and this one is like no other in the country.

Speaking of big bucks, where do you suppose all that money from litigation went? To fund a letter writing smear campaign?

DAVID WOOD

Let's try a few simple questions on this smear by Mr. Wood. What ulterior motives would opponents of the racetrack have other than trying to protect their air quality in one of the top two worst air basins in the nation? What ulterior motive would they have beyond trying to avoid incredible traffic congestion and noise?

What's the connection between any tax millions the track might earn and the UC campus? Is he conjecturing that sales taxes will flow from one to the other? The track folks have been suggesting lately a win-win public/private partnership with UC on automotive problems. But I am not familiar with any statements made by UC about this partnership. Have I missed something? Has the UC Merced chancellor endorsed Riverside Motorsports Park?

Where does Wood get the idea that the people who oppose the track are many of the very few people who opposed UC Merced? Where has Wood found a website or any other information describing any out-of-court settlements between UC Merced and opponents? What is he talking about?

Isn't the RMP track similar to the major NASCAR track at Sears Point, about 100 miles from Merced? Aren't the RMP people already exploring a backup plan to expand the old Altamont track near Tracy, which they now manage? How would Mr. Wood know the proposed track "is like no other in the country"? Has he been to the other tracks in the country or is he relying on RMP's Mr. Condren's sales pitch?

Is Mr. Wood just very badly informed or is he deliberately lying on behalf of the racetrack? It doesn't matter because the damage is done. He's made a mean fool of himself in print to anyone who knows anything about the areas he covers in his letter.

But, mean foolishness is all part of this project. The fundamental problem is that the proposed facility -- quite aside from its obvious environmental impacts -- is a temple to denial of reality, like the Iraq War. With more than 2,100 American dead and 16,000 wounded, and around 30,000 Iraqi confirmed dead, we are losing a war lies got us into so that US oil companies could exploit those resources to make gasoline for our cars. Is the motive behind the pagan ritual of stockcar racing (What would Jesus drive?) that as long as the worshippers can see the cars zooming around the tracks, they can forget the reality of shrinking natural resources that will steadily erode the quality of life for all of us?

Kurt Vonnegut summed it up nicely:

"We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on." -- http://www.counterpunch.com/swanson12272005.htm

Personally, I like the idea suggested recently that we should have a racetrack as long as all the racecars on it are solar-powered.

Bill Hatch

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Merced year in frosting

Submitted: Jan 01, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hatch

Notes:

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

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

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Who is Robert A. Lewis?

Submitted: Dec 22, 2005

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

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

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

The board confirmed the appointment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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