Global Warming

Don't let Bush's ESA rules stand

Submitted: Mar 20, 2009
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

This item below courtesy of the Center for Biodiversity, brings us up-to-date on Bush's lame-duck anti-Endangered Species Act regulations, what Obama has done about them, what he hasn't don't about them, and what remains to be done to get rid of them in the next several weeks.

 

 

3-18-09

Center for Biological Diversity

(415) 632-5319 for more information

Secretary of Interior Should Rescind Bush Endangered Species Act Rules —

Congressional Authorization Expires in 53 Days

Shortly before leaving office, the Bush administration issued three regulations that (1) remove the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an independent, scientific watchdog over potentially damaging federal projects such as timber sales, mines, and dams; (2) exempt all greenhouse gas-emitting projects, including coal-fired power plants and federal fuel efficiency standards, from Endangered Species Act review; and (3) specifically ban federal agencies from protecting the imperiled polar bear from greenhouse gas emissions. These policies eviscerate the central Endangered Species Act process — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversight — that has protected endangered species for 35 years, and they exclude the greatest future threat to endangered species — global warming — from consideration under the Act.

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The fish

Submitted: Mar 15, 2009
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

"Capitalists forget the masses. Socialists forget the money." -- Mike Tharp, executive editor, Merced Sun-Star.

"Capitalists and newspaper editors work without aid of memory." Badlands Journal editoral board.

In the stirring, hairy-chested whine beneath, written on a weekend when, long after every newspaper in the region has seen all its finance, insurance and real estate flak predictions of the easing of foreclosures and the bottom of real estate prices buried by reality, Sonny Star's top editor calls for a Big public works project for Merced to provide work and restore civic confidence.

In general, Californians believe that the history of everything from the state to their subdivision began when they arrived. This appears to be doubly true of the manly Tharp, recently returned from the Green Zone in Baghdad, who calls in vigorous prose for the government to build something around Merced. Right now, if you please.

The government continues to sink hundreds of millions of weakening dollars into a win-win, public-private partnership project adjoining Merced. The project is called UC Merced. It was repeatedly presented by several generations of UC administrators, UC Merced boosters, politicians and business leaders -- and incessantly by UC Merced Bobcatflaksters -- to be a publicly funded "high-tech, bio-tech engine of growth." But we don't hear so much as a backfire, let alone a Great Purring Sound. 

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Selfishness, greed, hypocrisy and political corruption destroy the Delta

Submitted: Jan 02, 2009
By: 
Bill Hatch

12-22-08
Merced Sun-Star editorial

 

...How can we judge if California is taking more water from the delta and its watershed than they can handle?
Consider the evidence: Smelt are at the brink of extinction. Other species, such as salmon, are in serious peril. Federal courts are using the hammer of the Endangered Species Act to deliver a blunt message about the entire ecosystem.
Dry years, when cities and farms suck more from the delta than they do during more rainy times, are especially tough for these species. During wet years, 87 percent of the water entering the delta makes it out to the San Francisco Bay. During dry years, the figure drops to 51 percent.
If California is to have any hope of restoring the delta and avoiding clashes with federal judges, it must develop a water plan that reduces its dependence on this estuary and strives for greater reliability.
What would this plan look like?
To begin with, it must be grounded in reality. Water contracts based on dated premises must be renegotiated, and efficiency should be the law of the land.
Each region of the state -- including Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley -- must find ways to reduce what it takes from the delta and its watershed. And environmental groups must recognize that not every species will be restored to its population predating the Gold Rush...

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Good news/bad news: Artic sea passages now open

Submitted: Sep 05, 2008
By: 
Administrator

8-31-08
UK Independent
For the first time in human history, the North Pole can be circumnavigated
Melting ice opens up North-west and North-east passages simultaneously. Scientists warn Arctic icecap is entering a 'death spiral'...Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor...8-31-08
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/for-the-first-time-in-human-history-the-north-pole-can-be-circumnavigated-913924.html

Open water now stretches all the way round the Arctic, making it possible for the first time in human history to circumnavigate the North Pole, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. New satellite images, taken only two days ago, show that melting ice last week opened up both the fabled North-west and North-east passages, in the most important geographical landmark to date to signal the unexpectedly rapid progress of global warming.

Last night Professor Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at the official US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), hailed the publication of the images – on an obscure website by scientists at the University of Bremen, Germany – as "a historic event", and said that it provided further evidence that the Arctic icecap may now have entered a "death spiral". Some scientists predict that it could vanish altogether in summer within five years, a process that would, in itself, greatly accelerate.

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Judgment Entered in Favor of Raptor, POW and Citizens Group in RMP suit

Submitted: Jun 20, 2008

MERCED, CA (June 20, 2008) --Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphreys signed this week the judgment for the lawsuit between San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources (petitioners), against the County of Merced and real party of interest Riverside Motorsports Park (respondents).

Judge Humphreys ordered in favor of petitioners that the following approvals of the Merced County Board of Supervisors on the RMP project be voided and vacated:

Resolution No. 2006-219;
Ordinance No. 1800;
Zone Change No. 03-007;
General Plan Amendment No. 03-005
Removal of project site from the Williamson Act Agricultural Preserve;
Amendment to the Merced County General Plan to redesignate the project site from "Agricultural" to "Castle Specific Urban Development Plan Industrial";
Rezone of the project from "A-1" and "A-2" to "Planned Development";
Approval of the project master plan;
Text Amendment to Merced County General Plan to modify policies in the Circulation Chapter that would exempt the project from traffic Level of Service standards for feature and major events.

The Court also ordered the County of Merced to refrain from further approvals on this project until the County and RMP undertakes further environmental review "to correct the deficiencies in the EIR and as otherwise required under the California Environmental Quality Act."

"We have nothing but the highest praise for our legal team," said San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center President Lydia Miller. "Gregory Maxim, Julie Garcia, Marsha Burch and their law firms, Sproul Trost LLP of Roseville and the Law Offices of Don B. Mooney in Davis."

"This judgment is a tremendous victory for the citizens of Merced County," said Gregory Maxim. "This lawsuit was brought for the purpose of ensuring that the citizens were provided with a full and fair opportunity to review and comment on all project impacts. This judgment, and the voiding of nine of the project's prior approvals, will provide the citizens with this opportunity."

"We are overjoyed at this positive outcome for the Raptor Center and Protect Our Water," Miller continued. "But we were particularly pleased with the strong support we received throughout the process of this lawsuit from the Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources, led by Suzy Hultgren, Paul van Warmerdam and Stacey Machado."

For further information contact:

Lydia Miller GREGORY L. MAXIM
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center Attorney at Law
Protect Our Water Sproul Trost LLP
(209) 723-9283, ph. (916) 783-6262 tel

Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources

Suzy Hultgren-(209) 358-2339 ph, (cell) 209-769-8583
Paul van Wamerdam- (209) 678-2251 ph,(cell) 209-678-2251
Stacey Machado-(209) 564-8361 ph,

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Concerning UC/Lawrence Livermore National Lab bombs over Tracy

Submitted: Mar 06, 2008

Organizing / Planning Meeting in Tracy on MARCH 6

Public Hearing in Tracy on MARCH 18

STOP THE BOMBPLEX

Please circulate widely. Please come. It's crucially important.

An important invitation for you:

A TRACY ORGANIZING / MOBILIZING / PLANNING MEETING TO STOP THE "BOMBPLEX," NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND WAR

We've found the Weapons of Mass Destruction! Five years ago, the U.S. attacked Iraq based on flimsy allegations of non-existent WMDs. Now, the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released new plans to modernize and "revitalize" the U.S. nuclear weapons research and production complex at 8 locations across the country, including at the Livermore Lab's Site 300 in Tracy. The DOE calls the plan, "Complex Transformation."

We call it "Bombplex." Tri-Valley CAREs and allied organizations are calling on all anti-nuclear, anti-war, environmental, and peace and justice activists to turn the "Bombplex" public hearings into a national public referendum on the future of nuclear weapons.

Here is where you come in. We are holding a special organizing / mobilizing / planning meeting in Tracy and calling on key activists and organizations to participate. Our goal is to take action together to MOBILIZE a large and powerful turnout at upcoming public hearings in Tracy (March 18 - see below for hearing time and location) and Livermore (March 19 - the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war).

Planning Meeting in Tracy:
Thursday, March 6th, 7 PM to 8:30 PM, Tracy Community Center, 300 East 10th
Street, Tracy. To RSVP or obtain details, call Marylia at (925) 443-7148 or email marylia@earthlink.net.

Note: Also at the Tracy Community Center on March 6, beginning at 6 PM, there will be a Dept. of Energy (DOE) workshop on the Superfund cleanup of toxic contaminants at the Building 850 "Firing Table" at Site 300. This Firing Table is one of four highly polluted locations where open-air bomb blasts have been (and still are) detonated at Site 300. The DOE workshop will feature posters about the cleanup (not speakers), so you can pop in and see the displays before the "Bombplex" organizing meeting at 7 PM. (And, if you think that pollution from bomb tests is relevant to why we must stop the "Bombplex," you are correct.)

Planning Meeting in Livermore, too:
Thursday, February 21, 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM, at Tri-Valley CAREs, 2582 Old
First Street, Livermore, CA. To RSVP or obtain details, call Marylia at (925) 443-7148.

Elements for each organizing meeting will include:
* What is Bombplex? A primer on nuclear weapons programs embedded in this plan, followed by a discussion on what YOU want to emphasize at the Tracy hearing.
* How do we stop it? Ideas to make the hearings successful, powerful and effective.
* Who can we mobilize? A structured outreach brainstorm to accomplish our goals.
* What's next? A broader discussion on nuclear disarmament action beyond the hearings.

"Bombplex" Action Alert for Newsletters, etc.

Public Hearings on the Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex!

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released its draft plan to revitalize the nuclear weapons complex at 8 locations across the country, including Livermore Lab. The DOE calls the plan "Complex Transformation" (formerly known as "Complex 2030"). We call it "Bombplex."

The draft plan is in the form of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). The most important thing to know is that the plan is fundamentally about the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons research and production complex. Do you want to see a revitalized weapons complex with added capabilities to research, develop, test and produce new and militarily modified nuclear bombs? Or, do you want to see the U.S. fully comply with its legal obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Don't be silent at this critical juncture. Your voice is needed now. Make the hearings a public referendum on nuclear weapons. At the hearings, you can speak on the changes you want to see at Livermore Lab, or on U.S. nuclear weapons policy writ large. You can speak out to stop polluting nuclear weapons activities at the Livermore Lab main site and its Site 300 in Tracy. You can tell the government to stop new nuclear weapons, like the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which the DOE is still pushing for with $40 million in its latest budget request. You can call on the government to end ALL bomb testing at Site 300. Tell DOE not to detonate depleted uranium, high explosives and other toxic and radioactive materials on open-air Firing Tables that are already polluted from past use. Tell DOE that plans to conduct even bigger bomb blasts under a "for hire" program for the Department of Homeland Security is unacceptable. You may also wish to point to the U.S. hypocrisy in planning to produce new weapons of nuclear mass destruction on the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Come and speak your truth to power. Choose the peace issues that are most meaningful to you. There will also be a 90-day period for written public comments. Public hearings are:

Tuesday March 18, 2008 -- Tracy, California
Holiday Inn Express, 3751 N. Tracy Blvd. One session only: 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

Wednesday March 19, 2008 - Livermore, California
Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave. 2 sessions: 11 a.m.-3p.m. and 6 p.m. -10 p.m.

Comments may be submitted by mail to:
Mr. Theodore Wyka, Complex Transformation SPEIS Document Manager, Office of
Transformation, NA-10.1, U.S. Department of Energy/NNSA, 1000 Independence
Avenue, SW. Washington, D.C. 20585
Or by fax: (703) 931-9222 (request confirmation of receipt)
Or by e-mail: ComplexTransformation@nnsa.doe.gov (request confirmation of receipt)

More info at -- www.trivalleycares.org o www.wslfweb.org o www.peaceactionwest.org

Marylia Kelley,
Executive Director

Tri-Valley CAREs
2582 Old First Street
Livermore, CA 94551

Ph: (925) 443-7148
Fx: (925) 443-0177
Web: www.trivalleycares.org
Email: marylia@trivalleycares.org or marylia@earthlink.net

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What now?

Submitted: Jan 12, 2008

The level of failure

There is a theory about the American economy that it advances and recedes via speculative bubble these days. This seems to be particularly true of our regional economy in the San Joaquin Valley, with its unaffordable housing and nationally top rate of mortgage foreclosure, following the big boom in residential real estate speculation.

Southern California home builders, after tremendous growth during the boom, have suffering hundreds of millions in losses in the second half of 2007. However, their losses are not as severe as the losses of five San Joaquin Delta fish species that "continue marching toward extinction, according to new data released Wednesday, a result that some observers warn may signify a major ecological shift in the West Coast's largest estuary." The tremendous construction boom in Southern California, coming at the time Colorado River exports to the region was slowed by drought and new agreements among the states that take water from that river, put "excessive" pressure for the last five years on the Delta pumps, slowed only as a result of near extinction of species and lawsuits by environmental groups. Another problem in the Delta is deteriorating water quality, caused by urban and farm runoff. As it heads north on the west side of the Valley, the San Joaquin River has become an agricultural drainage sewer.

Farm and ranch land prices are also up. First, starting about a decade ago, demand from Southern California dairymen, who, having sold small dairies for large land prices there, bought large parcels and established even larger dairies here. This bubble, driven by the need to get money into land to avoid taxes, got bigger when local landowners started selling parcels to developers and buying more land. As home prices fall, agricultural land prices rise. We live in a complicated economy.

However, while dairy costs seem to be chasing milk prices (which received a hefty increase early last year) up to break-even dairy economics, rising almond prices signal business to buy orchards and to plant them in what is already by far the world's largest almond-producing area. Agriculturally, in the north San Joaquin Valley we are in the midst of an almond bubble. Yet, through the last 12 months, the same story appears periodically in the media. According to this story, honeybee hives are collapsing, their residents leaving in the morning and not returning at night. Although scientists have fixed their attention on this cause and that cause, the same story of hive collapse -- "CCD – colony collapse disorder – has resulted in a loss of 50 percent to 90 percent of beehives in the United States" -- ends with the scientific speculation that, "The evidence today is pointing to the effects of a complex chain of factors: pesticides, viruses and fungi and parasites such as mites."

Colony collapse disorder could be to the almond industry what the subprime mortgage credit collapse has been to the speculative housing boom.

If the speculative bubble in ethanol is added to the picture, perhaps we can understand a simple story told by a dairyman about feed supplies and prices. Dairies import a lot of corn from the Midwest. The prices for this corn, under pressure from the speculative boom in corn-based ethanol production, have been going through the roof. Dairies have been partly compensating by buying more alfalfa. In at least one instance, a local dairyman was unable to buy a field of west-side alfalfa because the alfalfa grower found it more economically advantageous to sell the amount of water necessary to finish the crop to a neighboring almond grower, who needed it to keep his trees alive and was evidently able to make it worth the alfalfa grower's while to sell it to him and lose a crop. Nevertheless, courts have ruled there will be up to 30-percent less pumping from the Delta this year than there was last year.

We had a recent series of storms that partially recharged Valley groundwater and dumped a great deal of snow in the Sierra. The drought would seem to be over. However, a warm rain up to 6,000 feet in early spring could convert the healthy snow pack into floods and breaks in our decrepit levee system rather than an adequate supply of water for Valley farmers, 25 million Southern California residents and Valley subdivisions dependent on surface water supplies. It is hard these days to know which weather gods to pray to for what, when. It is equally hard to blame those weather gods for an economy that lurches from boom to bust and back again without any respect for the natural resources that sustain both agriculture and urban communities.

"Long-range collateral damage" in the California real estate boom/bust economy has been our public education system. California is now

ranked 40th based on the likelihood students will thrive in school and have successful adult lives, according to Education Week newspaper's annual Quality Counts report.
It ranks high, however, when comparing students in Advanced Placement programs.
Children who live in poverty, whose parents are not fluent in English or do not have a college degree were among the factors that weaken a California child's chance for success, according to the report.
The state ranks 38th in the nation for academic achievement.
California fourth-graders ranked 48th in the nation based on their scores on a national reading test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 23 percent of California fourth-graders were proficient in reading, compared with 32 percent nationwide.
Those students also fell behind the national average in math, with less than 30 percent testing proficient, compared with a 39 percent U.S. average...

Our educational ranking has been going in the opposite direction of population growth over the last 40 years. Development does not pay for itself in this most essential category: public investment in children and young people at which California once excelled and was in the highest rank in the nation.

At the level of public higher education in the state, the governor has announced deep cuts in spending and the University of California and the State university system have announced tuition hikes, making, in a coming recession, public higher education less attainable than ever. One still hears the grand developer-driven hoopla around the necessity for UC Merced because of "tidal-wave 2" echoing in the hollowed-out economy. But the governor needs to cut the state deficit, which is growing as real estate prices fall. Real estate prices are falling because the speculative bubble burst. So, we must sacrifice investment in the real engine of growth, the resources for technological invention that exist in a well-educated workforce.

The illiteracy among home buyers, realtors and mortgage lenders, the simple inability to read small print, has had a large role in the global credit crisis.

It has been recognized, even by the state Legislature, that the real-estate "engine of growth" that has been driving California from bubble to bust to bubble again, sweeping many more modest but steadier economies before it, has had a gross impact on the state's environment. Last year, in an historic gesture, the Legislature declared itself against global warming. It also asserted the right "to adopt strict curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks." The federal Environmental Protection Agency denied California this right to do something more than what the federal government requires to clean up its own air quality, the worst in the nation. On the other hand, a Valley state senator is having to launch a political campaign to stop confirmation of the Hun's latest appointment to the state air board, a Fresno County supervisor with a strong record in support of air polluters.

Bank of America announced today it would take over California-based Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender. BofA already had a $2-billion investment in the company, rumored for months to be on the brink of bankruptcy.

The takeover removes the threat that Countrywide could fail and wreak more havoc in the mortgage market, where loan defaults are soaring and federal policymakers have been struggling to limit the spillover in the economy.
The rescue of Countrywide could help calm the "crisis of confidence" that has slammed the financial system as the housing and mortgage markets have crumbled, said Brian Bethune of Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm in Lexington, Mass. "This will change perceptions."
Fear that the housing mess could drag the U.S. economy into recession has depressed the stock market in recent months and spurred the Federal Reserve to cut short-term interest rates three times. On Thursday, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the central bank was ready to make further "substantive" moves to ease credit to help the economy.
In the case of Countrywide, policymakers had to be concerned about "a big domino going down," Bethune said..
For Countrywide, a takeover by a financially robust suitor is "a gift from heaven," said banking industry analyst Richard Bove of Punk, Ziegel & Co.

The stock market responded by falling another 267 points but: "Countrywide Financial Corp. founder Angelo Mozilo, one of the nation's highest-paid chief executives, stands to reap $115 million in severance-related pay if his troubled company is acquired by Bank of America Corp., regulatory filings show."

This is a failed chief executive -- a failed and overpaid chief executive -- who has driven his company to the brink of bankruptcy," said Daniel Pedrotty, director of the office of investment at the AFL-CIO. "I think shareholders are going to be especially outraged if he walks away with another pay-for-failure package."...
"He has driven the stock price into the ground and the company has been destroyed," Ferlauto said. "Their customers have lost their homes and he is potentially walking away with more than $100 million. For us, that's unconscionable enrichment.

It is possible that the result of this “take over” will simply be that the largest corrupt mortgage lender in the nation drags down the bank that had most to do with the agricultural development of the San Joaquin valley. It is also possible that if enough bubbles burst simultaneously in the north San Joaquin Valley, we may not live long enough to dig ourselves out of the collapse. These "possibilities," left to us by our leading public officials and special interests, are rotten. They harm our quality of life, our health, our economic futures and our childrens' futures are worse. Local politics, our own "art of the possible," has few good choices to make.

It’s no secret that Merced faces many steep challenges. Ours is among the poorest counties in California with one of the state’s highest unemployment rates and lowest levels of educational attainment. Poverty, substance abuse, and child neglect are daily realities for many of our children and neighbors. -- Merced County Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan.

Merced was poorer than competing counties for the UC campus in the San Joaquin Valley. Maybe that was one of the deciding factors in locating it here -- the idea that it would have more positive economic and cultural benefit here than at an alternative site. In the short run, UC's largest impact on Merced has been to have acted the engine for growth of the highest foreclosure rate in the nation the worst series of assaults on state and federal environmental law and its enforcement in the history of those laws and the agencies enforcing them. In Merced, this was accompanied by a wholesale devaluation of anyone not in on the speculative boom. Local land-use officials and an endless parade of real estate boosters both promoted and believed in an instant transformation of the poor old agricultural economy of Merced. It didn't happen. It will take at least a generation for UC Merced to exert much positive economic influence here. Meanwhile, thanks to the spectacular extent of the bust in this region, it may take almost a generation for development to pick up steam again. Meanwhile, the county remains full of people who are not part of the famous "high-tech, bio-tech engine of growth" promised by UC and who are wondering what's next.

Badlands Journal editorial board
---------------------------

1-10-08
Sacramento Bee
Fish: Delta drop sparks fears of ecological shift...Matt Weiser
http://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/623644.html

Bees: Steep population loss hits agriculture hard...Ngoc Nguyen
http://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/623661.html

Modesto Bee
Report: California a tough place for children to get ahead
California ranked 40th in nation on likelihood students will find success...MERRILL BALASSONE
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/175786.html

1-11-08
Los Angeles Times
U.S. denial of California emissions waiver criticized
Sen. Boxer, chairman of a Senate environment panel, says she might subpoena documents concerning possible White House interference...Margot Roosevelt
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-me-epa11jan11,1,33705,print.story?coll=la-news-environment

Bank of America announces Countrywide takeover
The $4-billion deal removes the threat of a bankruptcy that could wreak more havoc in the mortgage market. Both firms' stocks decline...Walter Hamilton, Tom Petruno and E. Scott Reckard
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-countrywide12jan12,0,786793,print.story?coll=la-home-center

Mozilo could reap $115 million
The Countrywide CEO's potential pay if his company is acquired rankles critics...Kathy M. Kristof
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-mozilo11jan11,1,5951348,print.story?coll=la-headlines-business

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The importance of care

Submitted: Oct 29, 2007

Care, writes one of our best environmental journalists and activists, is at the basis of civilization. Yet, here we sit in a valley, one of the world's richest agricultural places, still largely rural, and its leaders spend their boundless energy figuring out how to replicate the mindless slurb to the south and to the north of it for the profits of finance, insurance, real estate, large landholdings and themselves. Although there is no balance left between man and Nature, as the growing number of wildlife species listed as endangered or threatens indicates, there are still wildlife species and habitat in the Valley. It is absolutely pathetic that the only current check to the speculative real estate boom is massive fraud these special interests have practiced here, which now endangers the international credit system.

Care for the Valley as it is, not the fraudulent "leadership" vision of an urban tomorrow, is what we need. Only care has the power to stop and reverse the race to destruction that is now our path here and elsewhere. Care is the only human power strong enough to defeat the system of greed now devouring the valley under empty, grant-grifting slogans like "economic, social and environmental well-being." This is a quite conscious materialist perversion of the more civilized slogan of Valley environmentalists a dozen years ago: "economic, social and environmental justice." A little real justice, unlike an illusion of well-being, is never achieved by consensus with your grave diggers.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Civilisation ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already?

A powerful novel's vision of a dystopian future shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy

George Monbiot
Tuesday October 30, 2007
The Guardian

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Cormac McCarthy's book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. Some years before the action begins, the protagonist hears the last birds passing over, "their half-muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl". McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

All pre-existing social codes soon collapse and are replaced with organised butchery, then chaotic, blundering horror. What else are the survivors to do? The only remaining resource is human. It is hard to see how this could happen during humanity's time on earth, even by means of the nuclear winter McCarthy proposes. But his thought experiment exposes the one terrible fact to which our technological hubris blinds us: our dependence on biological production remains absolute. Civilisation is just a russeting on the skin of the biosphere, never immune from being rubbed against the sleeve of environmental change. Six weeks after finishing The Road, I remain haunted by it.

So when I read the UN's new report on the state of the planet over the weekend, my mind kept snagging on a handful of figures. There were some bright spots - lead has been removed from petrol almost everywhere and sulphur emissions have been reduced in most rich nations - and plenty of gloom. But the issue that stopped me was production.

Crop production has improved over the past 20 years (from 1.8 tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to 2.5 tonnes today), but it has not kept up with population. "World cereal production per person peaked in the 1980s, and has since slowly decreased". There will be roughly 9 billion people by 2050: feeding them and meeting the millennium development goal on hunger [halving the proportion of hungry people] would require a doubling of world food production. Unless we cut waste, overeating, biofuels and the consumption of meat, total demand for cereal crops could rise to three times the current level.

There are two limiting factors. One, mentioned only in passing in the report, is phosphate: it is not clear where future reserves might lie. The more immediate problem is water. "Meeting the millennium development goal on hunger will require doubling of water use by crops by 2050." Where will it come from? "Water scarcity is already acute in many regions, and farming already takes the lion's share of water withdrawn from streams and groundwater." Ten per cent of the world's major rivers no longer reach the sea all year round.

Buried on page 148, I found this statement. "If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress." Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, are we going to feed the world? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learned that climate change could eliminate half the world's species; that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction; that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule. But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: "If it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?"

On Saturday, for some light relief from the UN report (who says that environmentalists don't know how to make whoopee?), I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting 18 new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning. The improvements to the climate change bill that Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, announced yesterday were welcome. But in every major energy sector - aviation, transport, power generation, house building, coal mining, oil exploration - the government is promoting policies that will increase emissions. How will it make the 60% cut that the bill enforces?

No one knows, but the probable answer is contained in the bill's great get-out clause: carbon trading. If the government can't achieve a 60% cut in the UK, it will pay other countries to do it on our behalf. But trading works only if the total global reduction we are trying to achieve is a small one. To prevent runaway climate change, we must cut the greater part - possibly almost all - of the world's current emissions. Most of the nations with which the UK will trade will have to make major cuts of their own, on top of those they sell to us. Before long we will have to buy our credits from Mars and Jupiter. The only certain means of preventing runaway climate change is to cut emissions here and now.

Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties' policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won't be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme - Top Gear - that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show.

The schedules are crammed with shows urging us to travel further, drive faster, build bigger, buy more, yet none of them are deemed to offend the rules, which really means that they don't offend the interests of business or the pampered sensibilities of the Aga class. The media, driven by fear and advertising, are hopelessly biased towards the consumer economy and against the biosphere.

It seems to me that we are already pushing other people ahead of us down The Road. As the biosphere shrinks, McCarthy describes the collapse of the protagonist's core beliefs. I sense that this might be happening already: that a hardening of interests, a shutting down of concern, is taking place among the people of the rich world. If this is true, we do not need to wait for the forests to burn or food supplies to shrivel before we decide that civilisation is in trouble.
Monbiot.com

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Public Minutes: The Tehachapi Silver Bullet

Submitted: Oct 12, 2007

On October 10, the Merced Land Alliance, Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, Citizens for Intelligent Growth and the Merced County Farm Bureau co-hosted a presentation by Holly Hart, executive director of the Smart Growth Coalition of Kern County. Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the farm bureau, introduced Hart, “a dynamic presenter.” Pedrozo set the stage by noting that a number of parallel planning processes were going on around Merced County at the moment: the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the Merced County General Plan Update, the Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley, city general-plan updates, lawsuits and legal decisions regarding the Friant Dam and the Delta Smelt. These processes are going on simultaneously, but is there any coordination among them, she asked. Pedrozo concluded her introduction of Hart by saying that the sponsors of the presentation and Hart are offering an alternative to lawsuits.

Hart described the Smart Growth Coalition of Kern County as a 15-year-old group of representatives from agriculture, oil, insurance, banks and former politicians that had met their original goals by 2004 and have developed a new strategic plan, taking note of their mistakes. The essence of the new strategic plan Hart announced, presumably the key to the elusive grail of Smart Growth: design communities, don’t plan them.

“If you change one thing, you change all …” she said. (She meant if you change from planning communities, to designing them, all things will change.)

The Badlands Journal editorial board out of idle curiosity did a short web search on Hart, discovering among other things that she is listed by the state Labor Market Information service as the owner of a firm called Giraffix Design and Productions, whose business involves “organizing, promoting, and/or managing events such as business or trade shows, conventions, conferences and meetings …”

Hart is also a school board member in her community, Tehachapi, a city of about 8,000 that is 4,000 ft in altitude on the Tehachapi Pass between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, about 50 miles east of I-5 and the Grapevine. While air quality is not great in Tehachapi, neither is it in the bottom five in the nation, like its county seat, Bakersfield, or the worst in the nation, like Arvin at the foot of the Grapevine.

Hart is also an active Kern County Democrat and a graduate of the UC/Great Valley Center’s Institute for the Development of Emerging Area Leaders (IDEAL).

Hart said the Kern County smart growth group has four current goals.

First, is integrating all global information systems (GIS) maps so that different planning (or designing) jurisdictions will have access to all GIS data produced about their regions.

Second was something she called, “Infrastructure First!” However, she qualified this by saying that this infrastructure must accommodate the needs of people in the 21st century: high-speed access (computers, railroads or both); movement of goods and commuters; high quality libraries (the artists in Tehachapi require film labs and recording equipment, presumably available in publicly funded libraries).

Fourth (third got lost in the dynamism somewhere): Outreach. According to Hart’s information, planners are saying that they need “grassroots outreach.”

Hart believes that “we” (an unclear reference in this context) have become accustomed to fighting against (whether things, development, plans was not clear) and we need to start fighting for something. The Central Valley has been left behind “forever,’ Hart said. Yet, today, it has more resources and attention than it has ever had. “Use it, act on it, don’t question it!” Hart urged us.

The San Joaquin Valley is the epicenter of an international credit crisis caused by a huge speculative real estate boom that busted, caused in turn by the availability of relatively cheap farmland for sale to build subdivisions for commuters to the Bay Area and LA. It has indeed received a great deal of attention from developers and their bought-and-sold state Legislature in recent years. As for its degraded and rapidly deteriorating natural resources and environment, which has become – emphatically so in Kern County—a public health and safety issue, the only attention that aspect of the Valley has received has been thanks to lawsuits. In a sense, however, Hart is right: there are no questions left. The only solution is all-out citizen resistance to finance, insurance and real estate special interests and to the politicians and local land-use authorities they control, which created the perfect economic vortex: the highest foreclosure rate in the nation.

We need the information to change our future, Hart said, launching into her biography: a degree in industrial design with an emphasis in the design of public space. Her first job was at the Epcot Center at Disney World. “We can build great cities,” Hart said she realized on that, her first, project. Later she worked in Singapore, for a Houston-based firm, 3D International. Starting in the 1950’s 3D grew up with Houston, rapidly merged and acquired different companies to become an international construction, architecture and design company. According to Hart, 3D “helped (Singapore) find its vision … now it is a first-world country.”

Badlands Journal editors scratched their heads but could not come up with a country less like the San Joaquin Valley than Singapore, a city state, second most densely populated country on the globe, dominated by Chinese immigrants on sixty-three islands at the end of the Malay Peninsula -- although several argued that the Epcot Center at Disney World, FL was actually more unlike the San Joaquin Valley.

However, Hart was announcing the grand theme of the evening: Smart Growth! “We’ve been given the opportunity to control our own destiny,” she said. “If we believe it, it will be so.” Therefore, we should embrace the Valley Blueprint, the Partnership, etc. (and not question them because we’ve been given the opportunity to control our own destiny and if we believe that, it will be so.”

Next, Hart took us for an exhilarating flight through the History of Planning, starting with the Industrial Revolution, complete with pictures of slums beside satanic mills. A bizarre twist in HartHistory was a lurch to 1934 and Hart’s report that 5 million cotton pickers moved from the South to northern cities that year. Some in the room briefly wondered how many other people were on the move in the depths of the Great Depression, included a large number coming from the Dust Bowl to the San Joaquin Valley. Hart characterized these northern industrial cities as “black.”

Residents of the north San Joaquin Valley forget how acceptable racism is in Kern County, where as long as 40 years ago, Whites lived in terror of an invasion from Watts. Ronald Reagan used the fear quite successfully in his 1966 gubernatorial campaign.

In 1926, Hart said, the US Supreme Court decided a case called Euclid v. Amber Realty that established zoning laws, “the solution for pollution” being to put factories on the edges of cities. The next station on high-speed HartHistory was the federal bill that established GI loans for education, mortgages and business loans. Then we were on to Levittown, where the developer used the Henry Ford technique of building houses, creating the first modern subdivisions. (The same thing was going on in Daly City.) The “solution to pollution” failed because people had to commute to work, which required cars, leading to “building cities and towns for cars,” like they have been doing in the San Joaquin Valley for 30 years. “Cars are now more important than people, communities and land,” Hart noted. She described Kern County (with graphics of locusts devouring crops) – people now running from cities, now mega-dairies running from Chino because LA County decided to discontinue its dairy park and open the area to developers to build more subdivisions for commuters. Hart said: “We know you don’t want the Southland in the Valley.” Her visual aids include pictures of poor Black youth (gangs) and graffiti.

What “we,” Badlands editors wondered. Who is the “we” that Hart is dynamically presenting here? We do however remember an actual infestation of grasshoppers in Avenal once.

“We are creating globalisation,” she said. Forty-seven million Americans are moving within the US annually to follow work, she said. Youth today will be changing jobs every three or four years.

Don’t question government, Hart implied, because government has empowered us, in the form of a 2004 state law called AB1268:

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST

65302.4. The text and diagrams in the land use element that
address the location and extent of land uses, and the zoning
ordinances that implement these provisions, may also express
community intentions regarding urban form and design. These
expressions may differentiate neighborhoods, districts, and
corridors, provide for a mixture of land uses and housing types
within each, and provide specific measures for regulating
relationships between buildings, and between buildings and outdoor
public areas, including streets.

While Badlands editors could see how someone who owned a design and production company in Tehachapi would be terribly impressed by this brilliantly progressive insert into the Government Code guidelines for general plans, we were a little bit more impressed by the following:

65302.1. (a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the
following:
(1) The San Joaquin Valley has a serious air pollution problem
that will take the cooperation of land use and transportation
planning agencies, transit operators, the development community, the
San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the public to
solve. The solution to the problem requires changes in the way we
have traditionally built our communities and constructed the
transportation systems. It involves a fundamental shift in
priorities from emphasis on mobility for the occupants of private
automobiles to a multimodal system that more efficiently uses scarce
resources. It requires a change in attitude from the public to
support development patterns and transportation systems different
from the status quo.
(2) In 2003 the district published a document entitled, Air
Quality Guidelines for General Plans. This report is a comprehensive
guidance document and resource for cities and counties to use to
include air quality in their general plans. It includes goals,
policies, and programs that when adopted in a general plan will
reduce vehicle trips and miles traveled and improve air quality.
(3) Air quality guidelines are recommended strategies that do,
when it is feasible, all of the following:
(A) Determine and mitigate project level and cumulative air
quality impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
(Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources
Code).
(B) Integrate land use plans, transportation plans, and air
quality plans.
(C) Plan land uses in ways that support a multimodal
transportation system.
(D) Local action to support programs that reduce congestion and
vehicle trips.
(E) Plan land uses to minimize exposure to toxic air pollutant
emissions from industrial and other sources.
(F) Reduce particulate matter emissions from sources under local
jurisdiction.
(G) Support district and public utility programs to reduce
emissions from energy consumption and area sources.
(4) The benefits of including air quality concerns within local
general plans include, but are not limited to, all of the following:

(A) Lower infrastructure costs.
(B) Lower public service costs.
(C) More efficient transit service.
(D) Lower costs for comprehensive planning.
(E) Streamlining of the permit process.
(F) Improved mobility for the elderly and children.
(b) The legislative body of each city and county within the
jurisdictional boundaries of the district shall amend the appropriate
elements of its general plan, which may include, but are not limited
to, the required elements dealing with land use, circulation,
housing, conservation, and open space, to include data and analysis,
goals, policies, and objectives, and feasible implementation
strategies to improve air quality.
(c) The adoption of air quality amendments to a general plan to
comply with the requirements of subdivision (d) shall include all of
the following:
(1) A report describing local air quality conditions including air
quality monitoring data, emission inventories, lists of significant
source categories, attainment status and designations, and applicable
state and federal air quality plans and transportation plans.
(2) A summary of local, district, state, and federal policies,
programs, and regulations that may improve air quality in the city or
county.
(3) A comprehensive set of goals, policies, and objectives that
may improve air quality consistent with the strategies listed in
paragraph (3) of subdivision (a).
(4) A set of feasible implementation measures designed to carry
out those goals, policies, and objectives.
(d) At least 45 days prior to the adoption of air quality
amendments to a general plan pursuant to this section, each city and
county shall send a copy of its draft document to the district. The
district may review the draft amendments to determine whether they
may improve air quality consistent with the strategies listed in
paragraph (3) of subdivision (a). Within 30 days of receiving the
draft amendments, the district shall send any comments and advice to
the city or county. The legislative body of the city or county shall
consider the district's comments and advice prior to the final
adoption of air quality amendments to the general plan. If the
district's comments and advice are not available by the time
scheduled for the final adoption of air quality amendments to the
general plan, the legislative body of the city or county may act
without them. The district's comments shall be advisory to the city
or county.
(e) The legislative body of each city and county within the
jurisdictional boundaries of the district shall comply with this
section no later than one year from the date specified in Section
65588 for the next revision of its housing element that occurs after
January 1, 2004.
(f) As used in this section, "district" means the San Joaquin
Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Hart presented more evidence of how our government is reaching out to us in the Valley: the 2006 California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, co-chaired by Fritz Grupe, top Stockton developer and 2005-2006 bankroller of the Pomboza’s last attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act, with particular attention, as always, to the habitat for endangered species in eastern Central California.

Ed. Note: the Pomboza refers to a congressional partnership, broken up by a vote of the people in 2006, between former Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

The Partnership was a response to a congressional report embarrassing to the state, demonstrating by a number of economic indicators, that the San Joaquin Valley is poorer than Appalachia, Hart said. Sustainability principles and balance is what the Valley needs, she added. But, then, leaving poverty behind for a moment, she leapt on to AB 32, the global warming bill passed last year. What will it mean for one of the most economically depressed areas in the nation? We wondered.

Not much, some say, because it’s kinda toothless. But Hart argued that it was very important because without local planning attention to global warming, state funds will dry up.

Would that be like the Education Reform Augmentation Fund? Would that be like our leaders telling us we won’t get those federal highway funds if we don’t agree to increase our sales taxes for local matching funds? And what does Merced do with the anchor tenant for its terrific real estate boom/bust, UC Merced, out there on the golf course claiming to be the “green” campus? Part of the mind-boggling contradictions we face here is the utter hypocrisy of power: the UC creates the growth that contributes to the global warming and air quality disaster, and then receives grants of public funds to study both. This hypocrisy lies buried deep in the culture of power, where they keep nuclear weapons research (a UC monopoly) and biowarfare research, a UC specialty that it wanted to expand greatly with a biodanger level 4 biowarfare lab near Tracy, fortunately unsuccessfully this time. Strangely, either by “design” or ignorance, Hart made no mention of UC Merced. It is possible she didn’t know where she was, evidenced by one reference to “Modesto County.” Nor did she once mention Mexico or Hispanic residents in the Valley, a curious oversight considering La Paz, headquarters for the United Farm Workers, in close to Tehachapi and that the union’s strikes began in Kern County. But HartHistory, as we were learning, is a very curious narrative.

Hart then launched into her experience on the Tehachapi school district board, full of people living on ranchettes, which ends up costing a lot of money for school buses. The utilities for the ranchette culture are subsidized by cities and towns, she said …

This is real old news.

The reporter is not certain – his notes do not reflect it fully – that at this point Hart actually thanked God for the existence of the Hun, our governor, but she came close. She dynamically presented regional planning as an act of his personal genius. Her illustration was poor Arvin, with the worst air quality in the nation. “Arvin cannot fix its air quality,” she said. She also mentioned that none of the major natural resource issues follow the lines of political jurisdictions, so regional planning is a must.

It looked to Badlands editors like ol’ section 65302.1 of the state Government Code sorta made it mandatory, at least for the Valley, but we aren’t lawyers and Hart outlawed contemplation of lawsuits early in her dynamic presentation.

And if you believe the governor cares about air quality in Arvin, Badlands has a heretofore undiscovered gigantic aquifer under Sunset Blvd. to sell you, dirt cheap.

“We are going to have to accommodate it. Growth is inevitable. If you don’t like it, leave,” Hart said.

OK. Everyone in Kern County can go live in Tehachapi.

The Blueprint is the Holy Grail, Hart dynamically presented. It will cover watersheds, roads, conservation corridors and air pollution issues, she said.

Meanwhile, back to Valley poverty: higher poverty rates than the state average, lower college education than the state average, higher rate of violent crimes than the state average, lower access to health care than the state average and the worst air quality.

Then we got the Three E’s of the Partnership: Economy; Environment; and Equity. “If you want it, you’re going to have to work for it,” Hart intoned.

Nobody in the Valley ever considered working for anything. That’s why we’re so poor, dumb, sick, crime-ridden and that’s why our air quality is the worst in the nation. We just don’t work. No wonder our government scolds us so, in the dynamic voice of Ms. Hart. But, wait, it’s because we don’t know how to work. We don’t have the right concept.

What we need is REGIONAL DESIGN, said Designer Hart. We need to design our regions, our city blocks, our neighborhoods. But, an obstacle is that the Valley is “a whole mess of different cultures.”

Worse than Singapore. Worse than the Epcot Center at Disney World. Badlands always considered it a privilege to live in an area of such diverse cultures.

But, somehow, DESIGN PRINCIPLES – from our inner cities to our rural preserves – are going to save us (if we work real hard), according to Hart.

“Kern County is taking charge of its own destiny. It is finding its vision.” Kern County contains two major goods movement corridors. Kern County wants food security. It wants energy security. It is promoting emerging technologies (a huge windpower project on the Tehachapis, possibly as large as the Altamont projects). Kern County wants water security and has a water bank to prove it.

The one thing Kern County has produced since the farm labor union is Government Code section 65302.1, which the Dynamic Presenter ignored.

Kern County is going to stop growth, develop vision and design its communities (no more of that tacky planning). Kern County is going to have Smart Growth. Hart can’t define it, but she knows what it is. Smart Growth is Outcomes, which we have to focus on instead of “inputs …”

Or “incomes” of finance, insurance, real estate, agribusiness and the oil companies?

Now, to the central point and on to liberation: planning v. design.
Plans outline a process and produces general plans.

Ah, but DESIGN! Design produces an illustrated document showing the community how it will look, enabled by AB1268, which according to Hart creates the breath-taking breakthrough of “form-based codes.”

The illustrations will be brought to the attention of all because – although planners still live in the era of Donkey Kong and maps – today’s technology can create really cool pictures of exactly the kind of city block you want or neighborhood by the same technologies that have produced our modern video games.

We need local government to help us see our vision, Hart dynamically announced. Then we can show it to developers, farmers, etc. Design documents show all the elements, all the outcomes, with lots of pictures. Ventura County has an outcome-based, form-based design document, Hart said.

Members of the defunct Merced County Agriculture Futures Alliance will recall that Ventura can do no wrong. They may also recall that the group was terminated by UC officials and developers when members put forth a coalition statement calling for a moratorium on new growth projects until the county general plan had been updated.

But – to make it even more perfect and free of conflict – Hart says that “we” aren’t telling the developer what to do on his private property. However, the public owns the streets, sidewalks, alleys and schools – the infrastructure. The public must start to design its own public spaces.

That should not take so long. Special interests have been swallowing public spaces for decades, starting with local, state and federal government.

Hart mentioned that the Tehachapi City Council declared a moratorium on new growth until its form-based planning was finished. The developers agreed, according to Hart. Hart has tender feelings for developers. She says some of them are investors in your communities and plan on 2030-year buildouts. Some even live in your communities. If they build low-quality housing products in the beginning, they create a problem for themselves later on in their buildout. Speculators hate form-based design, Hart said. But, developers who live in your communities will support it. In Tehachapi, developers supported it but speculators slinked out of town.

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!

Hart said that non-government organizations need to start working together.

The Badlands reporter regrets to say that no warm hand reached out to grip his own in the audience and scarcely a line of “Kumbaya” was sung.

You must bring people together, get to the Blueprint process, get community workshops started in the neighborhoods – Get them excited! Hart exhorts us undynamic listeners. Even get “bums” excited. BUT – dynamically weaving her diversity of themes – Hart reminds us that we don’t design private property but only public spaces.

Which is where you find homeless people, aka “bums” in HartSpeak.

Visualize your future! Hart exhorted us. We have NEW TOOLS! Hart explained. New computer tools that can create planning scenarios as fast as CMI forensic cops can whip up the face of a suspect. The room is silent. We all sense that this is the center of the Dynamic Presentation. New tools! People think about the air board, perhaps with help from UC Merced, creating the Black Box that will clean the air. New tools. Magic!

We suddenly grasp the principle of HartHistory: Time goes backwards from her future design, zooms in reverse at top speed through the present and into the past and those Southern cotton pickers up to Detroit, when Ford Co. goons were dangling the Reuther brothers, auto-worker organizers, over the frozen Detroit River from a bridge.

In Hart’s first demonstration of the NEW TOOLS, she chose a picture (projected on a screen by computer as is obligatory in all serious public discussion these days), of a street corner. It was a real Valley street corner. It was funky. It reminded me of street corners from Stockton to Bakersfield, where a Democratic Party voter registrar might set up table, make his pitch, and end up talking to a long-legged, sultry working girl in a red mini-skirt who would give her name as Joy d’Amor and say she only voted for Jesus for King. The scene contained a corner lot strewn with the remnants of failed enterprise, perhaps the last being a dead-end used car lot.

NEW TOOLS intervened as quick as a police artist on CMI whips up a portrait of a perp from a victim’s description. We have an attractive four-story apartment building with retail on the sidewalk, on the lot of the former defunct car lot kitty-corner to the “Checks Cashed Here” establishment.

So, according to Hart, the design freak, the turned-on citizens all the NGOs have gathered will redesign this guy’s lot. He couldn’t make a living selling hot clunkers there, but he has the money to build a four-story apartment building with retail on the floor. No more funky Valley neighborhood, full of “bums” and proprietors of sketchy establishments, no more of the real communities that thrive in such places all over America. We just erased the community that actually existed on that street corner – so unsightly to the eyes of Hart and the rest of the Yuppie Design Police – and we did 4th Street, Emeryville or downtown Sebastopol, without the income base to support it. And was the former used-car salesman a willing seller?

HartWorld is not about real people. It is about design fantasy, which always occurs out there in the future, receptacle for the subjunctive of greed. But that future is tough territory. While Hart demands local NGOs settle their differences and work together, a war is going on between planners and designers for control of the future, a time and a place – when you think about it – that does not exist. The nation’s present negative savings balance, the mortgage crash, and a decade of living in a community whose public officials have talked about nothing but housing people who do not know they will live here yet, from the Great Valley Center’s “Housing the next 10 Million” through all the UC flak about “tidal wave 2,” should be enough to make Mercedians think twice about Mom’s advice about planning for the future. If that is not enough, look at our business leaders, whose policies are to rip off the present as if there were no tomorrow. Consider our political leaders, who permitted nearly every subdivision they were asked to so speculators could try their hand at flipping Merced real estate.

If your local planners aren’t using SCENARIO PLANNING – these virtual pix – your local government is not helping you! Hart states flatly.

Does she have a contract to sell the technology, manipulate the technology, or does she get a cut for its promotion?

We now enter Hart’s nightmare and it’s no longer “we” (she, the Hun and the smart people) and now it is “you” (us living in this unspeakable squalor here on the Valley Floor).

“Your houses are unaffordable. Where is the water coming from?” she intones, flashing a photo of a boulevard with businesses on it with huge lawns between them and the street. Instantly, she creates a whole new SCENARIO of sidewalk boutiques crowding the boulevard, eliminating costly lawn watering. This only presumes that the insurance companies and high-tech firms that have the large lawns will sell the land to a developer to install the row of boutiques and that anyone will rent boutiques in space that reminds us of the road between Napa and American City or somewhere on the outskirts of Fremont or Fairfield.

Hart almost rants about being a “single mom” raising her children in a “real” neighborhood, saying (un-singly) that “we built a house we could afford in a neighborhood …” She waxes poetical about real neighborhoods before blasting ranchettes. Bakersfield College students did a study on ranchette living, found the lock-key children of two-income earners, and declared that ranchettes were creating “Lord of the Flies” SCENARIOS.

You need to build real communities!

We have real communities. They are being overrun by new subdivisions, which are of course neither real communities nor even neighborhoods yet. Retiring Placer County CEO Don Lunsford, put it quite well in 2001, saying that if all the subdivisions built in Roseville don’t become neighborhoods, “we will have failed.”
“We” failed and Roseville remains the model for growth in the Central Valley and that failure is a generous goldmine to all developers. That’s what happens when finance, insurance and real estate special interests own every local, state and federal politician in the state.

Close Big Box Retail! Build real shopping centers! Hart declares. Build creative clusters for creative workers! Build walkable communities to impede obesity (the killing illnesses of today have a direct relationship to how we build our communities)! Senior citizens in ranchettes are a disaster for everyone involved, from the seniors to their families to the public services they require, sometimes real quick.

Pictures designed on a computer screen are going to lead to the reform of the state tax code after the developers spent 30 years designing it exactly to their specifications?But, don’t you worry, we’re in the future now and the future does not exist so just go along for the ride and BELIEVE!

Again, from the annals of a reporter formerly covering government in Placer County, where all the magnificent fruit orchards have been carved into ranchettes – many for retiring couples – one of the main worries of government was the response time of ambulances and fire departments.

STOP PLANNING!
FIND VISION!
START DESIGNING!
INCENTIVIZE DESIGN!
DISINCENTIVIZE PLANNING!

The developer wants to know what you think! He doesn’t want to spend all that money planning something you don’t want. He needs to know what you want. With NEW TOOLS, you will be able to communicate with him.

Peace through graphics?

“That’s it,” she said.

But, it wasn’t quite it. At the very end, we learned that “government doesn’t want to fight you.”

Not “us,” it’s all “you” again that is receiving this immeasurable crock of the well-known substance.

Pedrozo was enthusiastic. “We can get these tools from you,” she said. But there are problems, at least here locally and DESIGN-FORSAKEN Merced. Developers get infill projects and their permits don’t make it through the process. A lot of the downtown housing is actually zoned commercial. We spend our tax dollars for public infrastructure but development has not paid its way.

IT’S OUR FAULT FOR NOT ASKING GOVERNMENT TO DO MORE! Pedrozo declares.

The public refuses to accept the blame for not demanding more of government by this inside wheeler-dealer, executive director of the local farm bureau, sister-in-law of the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, soon-to-be president of the California Women for Agriculture and past executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce. Pedrozo long ago passed over to the realm of local fixers who read no documents but decide their views solely on backroom chats with officials, weighing who is less important to offend in any given political situation.

Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook said that the lack of communication between cities and the county … the cities choose the largest footprints … are there any tools for not growing …sloppy …
“Cities grow. Counties don’t.” Ed Abercrombie, former Atwater city councilman.

Hart replies to her fellow UC/Great Valley Center IDEAL program graduate: there are issues like how land percolates, where farmland is – cities can be formed, can weave, can be concentric, or can organize as connected villages, which is more organic.

Like Village One in Modesto, the illegitimate brain child of Carol Whiteside, then mayor of Modesto, later founder of Great Valley Center and its IDEAL program of emerging scam-artist development.

“You have to find out what your people like, what makes them comfortable,” Hart said.

This sort of grasping for grassroots by government and its paid lapdogs like Hart is strong evidence of total desperation. The San Joaquin Valley is dying of government-sponsored growth.. Growing parts of it become public health and safety dangers, which is a liability issue for government. Therefore, OUTREACH!

Councilman Osorio makes a critical remark about design review committees. They just fiddle with little stuff, he said.

Would that be little stuff like printing a union bug on “Osorio for Mayor” lawn signs made by non-union printers and then trying to bribe a union printer$3,900 to say he printed the signs?

Hart asserts a NEW POLITICAL MODEL: What we gotta do is get us together in a “big old messy group with a good design team for a week taking “your” input and …”

…making cool video-game graphics out of it. “Big old messy groups” have gotten together with planners in a number of California counties to make county plans in the past. But, they didn’t have HartTech, so of course it didn’t work out--setting aside remorseless pressure from building industry associations, fronting for finance, insurance and real estate special interests.

Hart is full of wisdom and the Merced audience has evidently pushed her into root principles: “We’re not going to get consensus.” “You” have to build to a point where they will not oppose. It’s called “informed consent,” Hart explained. “Work for informed consent.”

In HartWorld there are always six people in any community who are against, and they can stop projects when they get together. In DianaWorld, however, these people do not do ask government to do enough. In the politics brought tonight to Merced County, all the non-governmental groups are required to join forces and go out into the neighborhoods to get people excited about redesigning themselves, while finance, insurance and real estate special interests go right on going on with the same-old, same-old.

East Merced Resource Conservation District Board Member Glenn Anderson attempted to ask a question of his usual global nature. Although a nut grower, Anderson’s questions always involve both fruits and nuts. He was trying to say something about local fruits and nuts and fruit and nut security. He never had a chance. Hart grabbed the theme and ran with it. Local growers and packers send their fruit out of the Valley and the Valley gets worse produce back. She lurches forward, imagining a fruit and vegetable peddler working our neighborhoods like the Good Humor men on their bicycles or the ladies who sell good tamales door-to-door.
Only true Valley vernacular can respond to this: it is horseshit. Our produce in Merced is just fine, thank you, and we bet it’s better in Bakersfield, a much larger city.

All this was too much for mayoral candidate Osorio, who said,: “We cannot build apartment lofts downtown by eminent domain."

Buggy as Osorio is, that wasn’t a bad statement.

Hart polls the audience for support of high-speed rail. Few hands go up. “That’s not enough at all,” she mutters.

How will she explain it to the Hun?

Hart nearly wails that we’ve abandoned 2,000 years of city planning for Levittown. Pedrozo replies that we’d support high-speed rail if we though the Valley would look like Europe as a result, but we know it is just going to look like LA. Hart says that it is the perception of staff planners that there is a problem communicating with the people. But there is all this growth. What are planners to do? What is the disincentive for more population growth in California.

Several members of the audience say, another Great Depression, possibly caused by the credit crisis brought on by fraudulent mortgage loans, like the credit situation in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
A questioner enters the global space of overpopulation in the Valley and global warming. Hart replies that AB 32, the state’s global warming bill looks like an unfounded mandate but is actually an unfunding mandate.
Pedrozo, executive director of the county farm bureau, veers away from global-warming chat, saying that we can build wonderful communities and keep good farmland, too.

Hart lays down the Kern County dogma on food security: Do you want to depend on a foreign nation for your food like we depend on the Middle East for our oil?

Speak Memory of how long ago it was when a large Delano packer was fighting President Reagan’s embargo of Nicaragua, with which he was doing a lot of import/export business in farm commodities—and became a darling of the Sandalista set for a season for his efforts. How many acres of row crop land does it take a family to make a living on in Kern County today? The benchmark in 1970 was 800 acres.

Maureen McCrorry asked how we could encourage infill projects rather than urban sprawl. Hart replied: hire design firms rather than planning consultants. “We’re building housing rather than communities.”

“Hire me rather than those nasty old planning consultants in the audience.”

A farmer remarked that the county has no zoning for agricultural preserves. Hart replies that you need to study your water, prime ag land, etc.

Most of the people in her audience have been involved with efforts to get government to do that for years. Some in the room have been successful at getting federal agencies to do just that. Hart, who thinks Modesto County is just to our north, has no clue who she is talking to.

Pedrozo announces that the county has required 1:1 mitigation for farmland on the Delhi and Santa Nella plans. No one is there to contradict her so it must be true, right? Pedrozo asks Osorio and other city officials present: Why couldn’t the city increase the density a bit and build out on its previous urban boundary without expanding it by 22,000 acres? Osorio replies that there is zoning for apartments but no one is building now. There are lots of empty houses in Merced, in case no one is looking, he added.

Badlands editors briefly imagined a Singapore skyline in Merced, its upper stories filled with the very wealthy entrepreneurs of UC Merced-inspired high-tech, bio-tech businesses, in entirely self-enclosed environments including virtual parks and 24/7 zebra snuff movies on the screens with no need to go outside to hear the rumble of goods movement, gangs and homeless panhandlers in public spaces, and to experience the health and safety hazards of breathing the air.

Hart, a fanatic advocate for mixing except perhaps in Tehachapi, asks if the zoning requires mixed income groups. Osorio replies that it has to be that way by state mandate. There is resistance to smaller footprints.
The Badlands Journal editorial board conjectured that Hart’s vision is of skyscraping apartment complexes with poor folk below, the wealthy above and discretely separate elevator shafts with stop and go servants constantly delivering locally grown fruits and nuts to the upper floors.

Nick Robinson, Scourge of WalMart, comments that nay-saying is important for community self-defense.

Hart replies that those same old six people can shut down anything. You’re going to have to move them. The goal is not consensus but informed consent. Robinson replies that asthma has become a health and safety issue in the Valley. Hart says that if you are going to build communities that cause asthma, you have to say, No. It is the only moral thing to do.

The distinction between the moral and the political, fomented by today’s Nobel Prize winner, Citizen Gore, is simply more evidence of the psychotic cracks in DemocratThink, the metaphysics of a level of political corruption so deep and pervasive it has destroyed itself. As former Rep. Tony Coelho, D-Merced, told Brooks Jackson, author of Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process, “the process buys you out.” Evidence since Coelho’s resignation in the 1980’s mounts that it also rots your mind.

Lisa Kaiser-Grant asks what about a moratorium on growth – simply oppose it to stop proactive (pro-development) planning? Responding to an earlier quibble by Osorio to the effect that he wants citizens not merely to oppose projects but to offer positive solutions, Kaiser-Grant added that she didn’t have time to propose positive solutions. “What I have time to do is to oppose.”

Hart pitches her NEW TOOLS. Get the design information out there, get your GIS cooking. Planners need to reeducate themselves. They need to SEE by using those new, cutting-edge graphic technologies that only design firms can properly be employed as consultants to provide.

Hart replies to the emerging moratorium mood in the audience that the only problem with moratoria is bankers (people we stupid Mercedians are never supposed to have heard of).

“FIRE!” cries the Badlands editorial board. “At last we are being read: Finance, Insurance and Real Estate special interests have ruled us since UC Merced was prematurely promoted as a “done deal” by the politicians, and became the anchor tenant for an incredibly destructive speculative real estate boom, which achieved its final form two days after this dynamic presentation: number one in the nation for foreclosure activity.

Pedrozo said Merced dairies did a three-year moratorium while negotiating the county animal confinement ordinance. But then she went lunatic: “We must give the government our vision! We need more dialogue like this.”

Actually, the evening was not a dialogue. It was a Dynamic Presentation followed by a little Q&A.

Osorio, a realtor, mortgage broker and insurance broker, determined to get the last word during his campaign for mayor, said “you” need to have the local politicians tell you what the constraints on your (crazy) ideas are. But, don’t think these are really local restraints. It is all the state’s fault…

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