Air pollution

Saving the edges of the Central Valley

Submitted: Jul 05, 2006

Throughout the borders of the Central Valley where cattle graze, although the great fields of vernal pools in pasturelands are being illegally taken, individuals and groups are finding positive ways to work together to try to stop the destruction of this unique ecology, home to a number of endangered and threatened species, essential for groundwater storage, open space that does not contribute to air pollution, and productive cattle land.

We include a several pieces:

"Easy on the land," by Glen Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, July 2, 2006;

The California Rangeland Resolution, an unprecedented agreement among local ranchers and their industry groups, farmers and their industry groups, state and federal resources agencies and local, state and national environmental groups, that this land must be saved. There is even one local land-use authority, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors;

A US Fish & Wildlife Service white paper, “Wetlands Creation in existing vernal pool landscapes.”

Bill Hatch
-----------------------

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/07/02/MNGOQJO6P41.DTL

EASY ON THE LAND
Ranchers and farmers, spurred by the growing market for natural foods, are finding a silver lining in the conservation cloud
Glen Martin, Chronicle Environment Writer

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Darrell Wood drove slowly across his land near Chico, a battered cowboy hat pulled down over his forehead, his eyes darting back and forth as he sized up the Black Angus cattle grazing nearby. In the back of his truck, three border collies stood at attention, ready to work.

The cattle looked in prime shape as they stood in lush pasturage dotted with sapphire vernal pools. Large flocks of northern pintails dabbled in the water, while white-tailed kites hovered overhead and red-winged blackbirds called from the sedges along the pools.

"This ecosystem is like anything else," said Wood, gesturing across the gently rolling plain that stretches all the way to the foothills of the Sierra. "Properly managed, it flourishes. Improperly managed, things start falling apart. We're doing everything we can to manage it properly."

Not too many years ago, that kind of talk might have sounded strange coming from a cattleman. But Wood represents a new breed of rancher. He and hundreds of other ranchers and farmers in California and across the nation are part of a growing private initiative that "embeds" wildlife habitat into the working agricultural landscape.

The trend is driven more by market incentives than bunny-hugging sentiments: The natural and organic food business is now a multibillion-dollar industry. But farmers and ranchers who produce for this market find they also have the opportunity to improve or create wildlife habitat on their land.

Adding to the incentive for wildlife-friendly agriculture are conservation easements -- essentially, cash payouts by government agencies or private conservancies in voluntary exchange for future development rights. The trend for such easements is bullish. In the last 20 years, about 260,000 acres of land have been protected in California through conservation easements --Â with 85 percent of that land set aside in the last decade.

Increasingly, environmentalists see easements and similar management tools -- and the ranchers like Wood who utilize them -- as key elements in 21st century conservation efforts.

"To a large degree, our society has become reluctant to fund large-scale national park and wildlife refuge acquisitions," said Dawit Zeleke, the Central Valley eco-regional director for the Nature Conservancy's California program.

Wood and his family own 10,000 acres and lease 100,000 acres from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management near the Lassen County town of Susanville, which they use as summer pasturage for their stock. They also own 2,700 acres and lease 10,000 acres from the Nature Conservancy on the Vina Plains near Highway 99 between Red Bluff in Tehama County and Chico in Butte County.

The area is considered a top priority by environmentalists because of its vernal pools -- seasonal wetlands that support several native plants and animals. The conservancy requires ranchers to pay fair market value for leased land. In the Vina Plains area, that averages about $12 an acre, said a spokeswoman for the California Cattlemen's Association.

Wood said he manages his stock to mimic the way tule elk once grazed the land.

"We allow the cattle to graze very intensively for short periods, then move them off," he said. "When the elk came through, they did essentially the same thing -- they ate everything and moved on. That keeps all the indigenous vegetation in the system. It's adapted to that kind of cycle."

When the land was managed more traditionally -- with cattle allowed to graze moderately, rotated off when the grass got shorter and moved back on when the grass grew back -- the vernal pool ecosystems suffered, Wood said: Noxious nonnative plant species, such as yellow star thistle and Medusa head, took over.

Wood's family has been ranching in Northern California since the 1860s, but in recent years he found it tough making a profit by raising and selling his cattle in the standard ways.

"Several years ago, cattle prices were at all-time lows, and I didn't know if we were going to survive," he said. "A guy approached me and asked if I was interested in raising natural grass-fed beef -- no hormones, no grain or antibiotics. I went for it. Right from the start, we got better prices than we did for standard beef."

The natural beef business has steadily expanded since 2000, and Wood's production has grown with it. He has enlisted neighboring ranchers into his operation, and the partnership now ships 130 to 160 cattle weekly, mostly to Whole Foods Markets and Trader Joe's, but also to several restaurants.

While Wood allowed he isn't getting rich, the future looks brighter than it has in some time. But if you're going to make it with natural beef, he said, profits must come from conservation easements and grants as well as cattle sales.

In addition to the Vina Plains programs, Wood's family is restoring wetlands, riparian corridors and upland sage-hen habitat on their property in Susanville, east of Mount Lassen, with funding from the National Resource Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmentalists have long criticized the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service for allowing excessive livestock grazing on federal lands. But grazing levels are about a third of what they were in the 1950s, said Ralph Mauck, a rangeland management specialist for the bureau's Eagle Lake district office, which manages about 1 million acres of rangeland near Susanville.

The district allows about 9,000 cattle and 5,000 sheep on its range, and ranchers are paying the district assessments of about $85,000 this year, Mauck said. Federal wildlife habitat can be improved by improving cattle range, he added.

"If it's done right, when you do one, you do the other," Mauck said. He said his agency is emphasizing management policies that incorporate wildlife values -- fencing off sensitive habitat areas, reseeding range to native plants and protecting riparian zones.

While ranching naturally lends itself to habitat restoration because the landscape is left more or less intact, intensive farming -- the cultivation of grains, vegetables or fruit -- is another matter.

To grow these crops, the face of the land must be changed radically, and usually little room is left for critters. In California's Sacramento Valley, there is one exception to this broad rule: rice lands. They can provide vast expanses of prime seasonal habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and raptors. Environmental impacts can be further reduced by growing the grain organically, or with minimal fertilizer and pesticide applications.

Lundberg Family Farms in Butte County has been a prime mover in the promotion of eco-friendly rice farming. The company and its contract growers cultivate about 12,000 acres of rice around the crossroads hamlet of Richvale, and markets a wide array of products, from organic brown rice to rice cakes, rice syrup, rice chips and rice milk.

The Lundbergs don't have any acres in true conservation easements, said the company's board chairwoman, Jessica Lundberg, but they participate in a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative known as the conservation security program. Under the program, farmers are paid an incentive to maintain and improve environmental soil and water standards on their lands over a 10-year period.

The Lundbergs enrolled 3,500 acres, comprising their core family holdings, into the program and received $45,000.

The enterprise's patriarch, Albert Lundberg, came to California with his wife, Frances, in 1937, having fled the dust bowl in Nebraska, said CEO Grant Lundberg, the grandson of the founders.

"The complete environmental collapse they witnessed in the Midwest was due mainly to terrible farming practices, and it made a tremendous impression on them," he said. "When they came out here, they were determined to improve the condition of the land, not degrade it."

The Lundbergs were at the forefront of organic grain production in California, obtaining certification for organic rice production in 1980. Today, about 9,000 acres of rice land under the family's control is certified, with the remainder managed for "natural" rice produced with minimal pesticides and artificial fertilizer.

Organic and natural rice fetch higher prices than standard rice. Another attraction, Jessica Lundberg said, is that the land fares better under organic production. The regular use of cover crops for fertilizer improves the tilth and net fertility of the soil, she said, and shunning chemicals and artificial fertilizers saves money -- and is a boon to wild creatures.

During a recent tour of the Lundberg fields, wildlife was omnipresent. Pheasants burst from ditch side coverts, and scores of ducks and shorebirds foraged in the soggy fields.

The Lundbergs also pioneered post-harvest field flooding. Throughout most of the last century, Sacramento Valley rice farmers burned their rice stubble after harvest to dispose of the straw and reduce disease pathogens. But the family always felt flooding was a better way, said Jessica Lundberg.

Such "decomp" rice flooding is now standard for the industry. It wasn't wildlife concerns that drove the trend -- rather, stringent air quality standards in the 1980s and 1990s required an alternative to stubble burning. But birds and other wildlife have been major beneficiaries of the practice.

"It attracts all the ducks and geese that over-winter in the valley," she said. "They eat the waste rice, trample the stubble down, incorporate it into the soil where it degrades. That gets rid of the straw and increases the volume of organic matter in our soil -- makes it richer and healthier."

The Sacramento Valley's flooded rice fields now amount to hundreds of thousands of acres of seasonal wetlands, said Greg Mensik, the deputy refuge manager for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which administers six refuges in the Sacramento Valley.

Zeleke of the Nature Conservancy said educating American city dwellers about private conservation efforts will be the next great challenge for the movement.

"As the population becomes more and more urbanized, people lose touch with the essential qualities of sustainable, wildlife-friendly ranching and farming," he said. "But I think we'll see increased public access to these properties -- guided tours, fishing and camping, maybe even some new variations of the classic dude ranch. We have to get people out there so they can understand the stakes."
-------------------

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

US Fish & Wildlife Service white paper

Wetlands Creation in existing vernal pool landscapes
04/02/2006

For the past couple of years (and probably before) we have been reviewing
and accepting the creation of vernal pool features/wetlands within existing
vernal pool landscapes as a means to address the no net loss of wetlands
policy. Specifically I am talking about the practice of creating vernal
pools in existing vernal pool landscapes where none occurred previously (as
opposed to restoring or re-creating vernal pools where it can be determined
they did occur previously). Each time we are asked to accept this practice
we have difficulty determining that this mechanical ground disturbing
activity does not significantly affect the function and value of existing
vernal pools landscapes (uplands as well as wetlands) and also result in
adverse impacts to listed species like plants, salamanders and shrimp.
Each time I see another one of these creation proposals, the densities go
up and the project seems more like the creation of a Frankenstein type
creature than "enhancing" or complimenting the processes of a natural and
dynamic ecosystem

The only compelling reason I can see for these types of creation proposals
are that this is the most cost effective approach for the regulated
community. That is, credit can be given for preserving existing vernal
pools (which are difficult and costly to develop on in the first place) and
creation can be accomplished without purchasing additional ground.

I can see no real biological benefits of this approach that do not outweigh
the impacts, nor do I see any credible scientific evidence that this is an
appropriate approach for vernal pool conservation. In fact the more and
more we analyze and discuss this issue in the scientific and academic
community, the more and more evidence is presented that we are likely
causing great harm to an existing functioning landscape. Impacts to upland
components/habitat for listed plants, pollinators, salamanders and kit fox,
hydrology, water chemistry, microclimate, etc are just a few of the impacts
that have been brought to my attention.

I know there will continue to be great debate about the pros and cons of
this practice, and we should continue have this discussion in the
academic/scientific community. It is just getting very difficult to have
this debate in the regulatory process.

Thus, my thoughts for the day. We are reviewing several of these types of
actions in the office now and we will continue to work with the proponents
to minimize the impacts to listed species and if necessary to suggest the
appropriate compensation to avoid significant impacts and likely have to
prepare additional biological opinions on the proposals.

However, in the future, my strong recommendation is to look for
restoration/creation sites that are not within existing vernal pool
landscapes. There are numerous areas where vernal pools have been lost or
impacted due to agricultural or other practices that are prime candidates
for creation/restoration. If we are asked to evaluate the creation of new
vernal pools in existing landscapes that have impacts to listed species it
will be very difficult to justify these proposals on biological grounds
without out considerable analysis of effects to uplands, wetlands,
hydrology, etc. Please, consider looking away from existing vernal pools
for your creation component. thanks

Ken Sanchez
Assistant Field Supervisor
Endangered Species
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office
2800 Cottage Way-Suite W-2605
Sacramento, CA 95825
(916) 414-6671

| »

Vote No on Measure A Tax

Submitted: Jun 03, 2006

URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT

A flyer against the Merced County Transportation Tax Measure A appeared in the Merced Sun-Star Saturday morning. We have included it below and attached it to this message.

We urge you to read and share these flyers with Merced County residents before the Primary Election on Tuesday, June 6.

We should not use a sales tax to raise money for transportation funds to benefit special interests because a sales tax has an unfair impact on lower-income residents. (1) Merced County ranks fifth from the bottom of California’s 58 counties in per capita income. (2)

Sincerely,

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

MAKE Residential and Commercial Development Pay Its Own Way!

REJECT Welfare Subsidies for the Building Industry Association!

In 2002, the Citizens of Merced County VOTED DOWN the Measure M road-improvement tax. Merced County and its cities went right on approving thousands of new homes. This RECKLESS action is destroying hundreds of miles of our existing streets and roads because development doesn’t pay for itself.

VOTE NO on Measure A because it doesn’t fix the problems. It adds to them! The intent of this tax measure to improve highways 99, 152, 59, and 33, and to build the Mission Ave. Interchange, is to attract more urban growth, not to fix local potholes. The only “economic engine” helped here is the profits of developers who want you to pay for the impacts of their projects while they plant the last crop in the San Joaquin Valley- subdivisions!

VOTE NO on Measure A because the county General Plan is an absurdly outdated, non-compliant hodge-podge of amendments and conflicting goals and policies. About 20 citizens’ groups petitioned the Merced County Board of Supervisors to slow growth until county and city general plans and community plans are legally compliant. Special interests – not the public – are controlling the Merced County planning process. Use your vote to send a message to government highway funders that these special interests do not speak for us!

VOTE NO on Measure A because UC won’t pay more than $350,000 to cover the $200 million cost of it’s impacts to local streets, parks and schools. Measure A will be used to finance the Mission Ave. Interchange off Hwy 99, the Yellow Brick Beltway to UC Merced and west to Atwater. This will hasten sprawl and will eat away productive agricultural land. This UC beltway will draw business away from downtown Merced. The Mission Ave Interchange will become the location of a Wal-Mart Distribution Center, bringing in about a thousand diesel trucks a day to increase our air pollution.

VOTE NO on Measure A because it is a matching fund gimmick created by special interests. Your supervisors have used your tax dollars to create a lobbying group called the One Voice Committee that speaks for special interests, not for you. VOTE NO on Measure A to tell state and federal highway funders “One Voice” speaks for special interest, not for you.

VOTE NO on Measure A because the sand and gravel trucks supplying these proposed highway projects tear down our county roads and degrade our waterways. Spending dollars on new roadways instead of for maintenance and repair of existing county roads and city streets is a misappropriation of public funds for special interests.

VOTE NO on Measure A because you’re tired of government by and for special interests – from UC Merced to local, national and international development corporations – making land deals for their profits and your losses. An estimated 100,000 new homes are already in the planning process in Merced County.

VOTE NO on Measure A because you will have no vote on the projects it will fund. Special interests have already decided how that money will be spent and will continue to decide how it will be spent.

VOTE NO on Measure A now and you may prevent Measure Z later, as special interests continue to pile on special taxes for schools, water, sewer, electricity, parks and recreation, libraries, solid waste, emergency services, police and fire protection – like Measures S, M and H, and the Merced City Hotel Tax for a UC Olympic-size swimming pool.

PAID FOR BY MERCED COUNTY RESIDENTS AGAINST MEASURE A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

Here is a partial list of residential developments ALREADY planned for Merced County
Atwater - 1,584 units, Atwater Ranch, Florsheim Homes 21 Units, John Gallagher, 25.2 acres.

Delhi - 1,100 units, Matthews Homes, 2,000 acres.

Fox Hills - 907 units, Fox Hills Estates north 337 units, Fox Hills Estates, central- 1,356 units.

Hilmar-JKB Homes, over 3,000 units.

Livingston - 1,200 units, Ranchwood Homes 420 acres. Del Valle, Gallo Ranchwood, 1,000acres,

Los Banos -, Ranchwood, 932 acres 323 units, Pinn Brothers, 34 units, Court of Fountains, 2.7 acres 95 units, Woodside Homes,

City of Merced - 11,616 units, UC Merced Community Plan 1,560 acres; 7,800 units, Ranchwood Homes, 2,355 acres, 7,000 units, Bellevue Ranch, 1,400 acres,

Vista Del Lago, 442 units, Weaver Development, 920 units, Fahrens Creek II, -1,282 units,

Fahrens Creek North, 1,093 units, Hunt Family Annexation,

Planada - 4,400 units, Village of Geneva at Planada, Hostetler 1,390 acres.

Felix Torres Migrant Megaplex 127 units, Park Street Estates, 31.8 acres, 200 units.

San Luis Creek 629 units, F & S Investments, 180 acres.

San Luis Ranch - 544 units, 237 acres.

Santa Nella - 8,250 units - Santa Nella Village west 881 units, 350 acres,

The Parkway, phase III, 146 acres - 138 units, Santa Nella Village, 40.7 acres - 544 units,

San Luis Ranch, phase II - 232 units, 312 acres - 182 acres, Arnaudo 1 &2

Stevinson - 3,500 units, Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development - 1,700 units, 3,740 acres.

Winton - 50 units, 17 acres- Gertrude Estates, Mike Raymond, 18 acres - 142 units, Winn Ranch

Commercial Development

WalMart Distribution Center, Riverside Motorsports Park and a growing number of Strip Malls

….and the list goes on!

Measure A gives the green light to all this proposed new residential and commercial development!

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

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

Notes:
(1) http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072554096/student_view0/chapter_15/economic_naturalist_exercises.html
Sales taxes are regressive taxes. This means that the proportion of income paid in taxes declines as income rises. That is, people with low incomes pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than people with high incomes. But what makes a sales tax regressive?
People with low incomes tend to spend a high percentage of the income they receive. At higher income levels, people begin to save (not spend) larger parts of their income. A person is able to save (not spend) part of their income only after they are able to take care of buying necessities like food, housing, clothing, and medical care. Therefore, low-income consumers will spend most of their income while higher income consumers can begin to save more and more.
Since a sales tax falls on income that consumers spend, and low income people spend a larger part of their income, the sales tax falls more heavily on low income consumers. This makes the tax regressive ...

(2) http://www.answers.com/topic/california-locations-by-per-capita-income
Merced ranks 54th in per capita income among California's 58 counties. Only four counties have lower per capita incomes.

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK

MISSION STATEMENT

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

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

| »

Some reasons that could explain the Modesto Bee endorsement of Pombo (if stupidity is not the whole answer)

Submitted: May 31, 2006

In a quiet little editorial on May 18, the Modesto Bee endorsed Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, against Republican challenger, former Rep. Pete McCloskey.

The Bee says that although Pombo is a (as yet unindicted) crook, he "has been effective in many ways."
McCloskey, is described as a quixotic, 78-year-old renegade, an author of the Endangered Species Act angry over Pombo's attacks.

Pombo's gut-the ESA bills are co-authored by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, who represents most of the Modesto Bee distribution area. A practical political consideration not mentioned by the editorialists is that without Pombo's hip pocket to ride in, Cardoza would lose influence in the one-party rightwing House. Rather than register as a Republican, Cardoza is a rightwing Democrat, of use to the House rightwing leadership as "bipartisan" cover for Pombo's radical rightwing legislation and decisions in the Resource Committee.

The Bee notes that Pombo was elevated over more senior House Republicans to the chairmanship of the Resources Committee. The Bee fails to mention that Pombo was also elevated several months ago over more senior Republicans to become vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

These important offices, once earned through years of service to the still untermed House, are now doled out by the radically rightwing Republican leadership to bolster its strengths here, fight off a challenge there and especially to reward loyalty to their radical rightwing policies. Once, even under periods of Republican control, the Congress chose its committee leaders on the basis of seniority, encyclopedic knowledge of esoteric subjects like dairy pricing, cotton and rice subsidies (especially at the beginning of a new Farm Bill debate), ability to compromise and negotiate across the aisle, and perhaps, from time to time, even a for little integrity, civility and authenticity.

In Pombo's case, the radical rightwing Republican leadership of the House, whose guidance the Modesto Bee has followed slavishly, has made Pombo as powerful as it could have in two areas -- resources policy and farm policy -- at a time when north San Joaquin Valley special interests are intent on liquidating both natural resources and agricultural land for a huge speculative housing boom.

It is a moment when the Bee editorial board should have stood for a principle. In fact, the "should" word was used:

It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

The Bee editorialists give no reason why 11th congressional district Republicans "should" choose Pombo, but here are a few I imagine might have persuaded the editorialists:

Get rid of the ESA so developers can build from the Altamont to Bakersfield without any interference from environmental law and regulation, despite the air quality disaster unfolding in the San Joaquin Valley;

Let the government buy up agricultural land at development prices;

Get rid of that 3-cent per hundredweight dairy tax proposed for the new Farm Bill;

Continue strong subsidy support for cotton and rice;

Keep the cabal of Pombo, Cardoza and Valley congressmen Radanovich, Nunes and Costa in control for continued pro-growth, anti-environmental, agribusiness-subsidy and racist policies;

Keep out McCloskey, an independent candidate with a proven record for courageous, principled political positions, who would be no tool for regional special interests;

If necessary (if Pombo is indicted before November), elect one of the Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to see who can be the biggest tool of special interests;

Neither Pombo or the Democrats would be votes to impeach the president; McCloskey has shown he has the courage to take that position if he decided it was the right thing to do.

The Modesto Bee sold its readers down the River of Stupid with this endorsement. It was cowardly, corrupt and dumb -- a combination of components in political policies we are finding more common by the day whenever our leaders speak.

Bill Hatch
-----------------------------

Pombo best among GOP options, but he'll have explaining to do later

Last Updated: May 18, 2006, 04:23:03 AM PDT

With his close ties to disgraced Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, contributions from clients of admitted criminal Jack Abramoff, and his off-the-wall plan to sell national parks, Richard Pombo looks to be ripe for defeat in the 11th Congressional District.
We don't think so; not this time. None of Pombo's problems will matter to the majority of Republican voters in a district that includes most of San Joaquin and parts of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. In this primary, the district's Republican voters are unlikely to vote against their seven-term representative. After all, he is the same big business-friendly, hardball playing, conservative Republican they've been electing since 1992.

As a protegé of DeLay, Pombo was elevated over more senior members to the chair of the House Resources Committee. From that position, he has forged a valley coalition that includes Democrats and Republicans. While we often disagree with the direction he has taken the committee, he has been effective in many ways.

In the primary, Republicans must choose between Pombo and 78-year-old renegade Pete McCloskey (retired Tracy rancher Tom Benigno is a nonfactor). It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

Angry over Pombo's attacks on the Endangered Species Act, of which McCloskey was co-author, Pombo's opponent moved into the district last year to give GOP voters an alternative. This has provided a loud and healthy airing of issues and a real campaign instead of the proforma exercise Pombo usually goes through to win re-election.

We admire McCloskey's quixotic quest, but we doubt that the district's Republicans are interested in an alternative. Besides, even a deeply flawed Pombo has more to offer the district than McCloskey.

It could be a different story in November. Then, a well-financed Democrat with distinctly differing views will present a clearer alternative. Then, Pombo will have to explain why 15 American Indian tribes, all with business before his House committee and some represented by Abramoff, have been so generous to him; why he has voted to protect oil companies' royalties and increase their profits; why he worked so hard to protect DeLay's power, and why he wanted to sell off pieces of15 national parks.

Republican voters should stick with Pombo — at least until they have a better alternative.

| »

Merced public meets a WalMart empty T-shirt

Submitted: May 26, 2006

Last week WalMart staff joined three local chambers of commerce to hold a public meeting on the company’s proposed 1.2-million square-foot distribution center, to be located at the Mission Interchange of Highway 99. The Mission Interchange will join the highway to UC Merced, via the Campus Parkway, the southern leg of a beltway road around Merced that will convey traffic to the campus and the growth it is inducing north of the city.

The WalMart distribution center will bring about 1,000 trucks in and out of Merced per day.

The meeting host was the Merced Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, flanked by the two other local chambers. The hosting chamber’s representative informed the public that speakers would be allowed no more than two minutes to speak, otherwise security guards would escort them out of the meeting room.

After the tone of antagonism to the public was set, a WalMart representative wearing a black suit and a white T-shirt began the presentation. He explained that the two-minute rule was because the meeting room in the Merced Multi-Cultural Center was only rented until 9 p.m. (WalMart didn’t get rich by renting halls for public outreach until 10 p.m., presumably).

The T-shirt began by saying that the area was zoned industrial, in “University Industrial Park,” and was a good fit for WalMart. Since WalMart didn’t get to be the largest corporation in the world by wasting money on fancy power point presentations, the T-shirt presented his on a projector and screen primitive enough for the public school system.

“There’s a good deal of misinformation out there,” T-shirt began, promising to clarify everything. He began by explaining that the City of Merced had just put out requests for proposals for consultants to do the environmental impact report required for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“We didn’t think the city should pay,” he said, so WalMart will be paying for the EIR.

One imagined WalMart’s view of who should pay for the EIR was probably shared by city staff and council members. Members of the Merced public familiar with EIRs and the consultants who write them are of the conviction – not challenged by anyone else familiar with the EIR/consultant process – that science for hire produces remarkable perversions of CEQA. The WalMart Distribution Center EIR for the Mission Ave. Interchange promises to be a tour de force of the environmental consultants’ art. We are aquiver with anticipation.

Several weeks ago, the federal government announced that the San Joaquin Valley is now the worst air pollution basin in the nation – worse than Los Angeles over a period of five years – although you cannot get a local Valley official to recognize it. It’s a tricky time for our pro-growth Valley politicians, because federal highway funds have been known to cease (in Atlanta, for example) when air quality becomes a genuine health and safety issue called “severe non-attainment.” So, Valley politicians, enthusiastic create the next San Fernando Valley, are very busy trying to gut CEQA as congressmen Pombo and Cardoza have been busy trying to gut the Endangered Species Act in Washington.

“We don’t understand CEQA in Bentonville,” the empty T-shirt explained. Of course, how could they? They don’t have any stores or other distribution centers anywhere else in California and have never, ever had to produce an EIR.

Zooming through his power point presentation, correcting public misapprehension of the project as he went, T-shirt closed by saying WalMart has nothing to hide and just wants to get “on the same page” with the public on information about the project. He expressed dismay about where people were getting their information, suggesting darkly perhaps some of it came from the Internet. He counseled the audience to verify all information they got from the Internet, presumably with WalMart, city officials, council members and environmental consultants. Nice little chats with these authorities are always more pleasant than following the paper trail, and a great deal less taxing on the mind.

A representative for a local responsible growth group noted there were five schools within a mile of the proposed distribution center. The company’s distribution centers are most typically located away from population centers, he said. Where will truckers park after they have finished their 8-hour shifts, he wondered.

WalMart knows there is an air pollution problem, T-shirt said, but WalMart is only a piece of the whole picture. The company will know how to mitigate for air pollution after the EIR is finished. He failed to deal with the issue of parked trucks, a major problem in Merced, a city with draconian anti-truck-parking ordinances.

A woman with family in New Mexico said WalMart promised good jobs for local workers where her family lived but imported workers instead. She asked if WalMart would guarantee it would hire Merced workers and the amount of the wages.

T-shirt was ready for that one, too, correcting her to say the New Mexico facility was a super center, not a distribution center.

But the woman was also ready: “If you lie about wages in a super center, why won’t you lie about wages in a distribution center,” she asked.

T-shirt replied that WalMart would import a management and training team but that after six months, they whould leave. The EIR will make these wages and jobs commitments, he said.

A young fellow, about 12 or 13 years old, told T-shirt he had asthma and wondered if WalMart would pay his medical bills for making his air quality worse.

T-shirt said WalMart could not agree to that, admitted the distribution center could have some impact to air quality, and reiterated that WalMart will not be choosing the environmental consultants. (WalMart will just pay them.)

A gentleman who said he frequently drives through the Midwest said people there blame WalMart for the decline in local businesses.

“That’s a fair question,” the empty T-shirt said. “We’ll have a philosophical difference of opinion,” he added, noting Merced’s vibrant downtown. Downtown business people one talks to, however, must be blind as bats not to see what T-shirt sees, as the area fills up with antique franchises. Even the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, co-sponsors of the event, recently moved its offices from downtown to north Merced, where strip malls are sprouting like weeds in the sun of UC Merced.

The description of the event could go on, but readers would soon become bored with the simple puppet show between The Corporation and The People. On the other hand, let us continue to give the full flavor of this moment.

Next came a man from Planada, an unincoporated community composed largely of Mexican farmworker immigrants. This local leader was somewhat disingenuous about his position in the community, announcing himself as a simple utility company employee when, actually, he was a prominent community leader who holds several appointed positions. He wanted 1 percent of his constituency to get jobs at the distribution center. “I want that center to help my people,” he said.

A neighbor of the proposed site told the T-shirt she didn’t believe either the local government (because a low-income housing project the government said would be for locals turned out to be for out-of-towners) or WalMart. What guarantee do we get from these job promises, she asked. What guarantee is there we will get only the newest, most environmentally advanced trucks? What written guarantees will we get from either WalMart or the City of Merced?

The empty T-shirt replied that all that would be handled in the EIR, adding that he himself, the T-shirt, didn’t make guarantees.

The neighbor replied that environmental review documents have exactly nothing to do with jobs and wages for local citizens. The crowd began to mutter darkly, a voice from the pro-WalMart faction told her to sit down and shut up and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce representative invoked the 2-minute rule again (and the implied security guards behind it).

The Empty T-Shirt replied after the muttering that the WalMart CEO had recently decreed that the company’s truck fleet would be green by 2007.

A local activist, also involved in trying to stop the proposed NASCAR race track on the other side of town (another boon to regional air quality), asked why Merced should welcome a corporation with a record for exploiting workers on overtime (off-the-clock work, proven in a $117-million class action award, denies meal breaks, is the object of a class action gender-discrimination suit, degrades the environment, and buys enormous quantities of goods from sweatshops in China.

“Why is this enhancing Merced?” he asked.

The empty T-shirt said those questions were philosophical. “Anyone can file a lawsuit,” he commented, adding that WalMart imported goods worth $18 billion from China but bought $137 billion worth of goods in the US. WalMart is a global company, he asserted. It sells US goods overseas. “We embrace the global economy,” he concluded.

A local teacher raised the issue of why the distribution center would be located within the city, when most are located in the middle of nowhere. T-shirt replied that the “University Industrial Zone” was zoned properly and the EIR will tell the full story. Another neighbor of the proposed distribution center noted there are three public schools within a mile of the project and a new subdivision within 500 feet of it. She also challenged WalMart representatives to describe how they would spend some portion of $12 million in Merced that they claimed WalMart had donated to worthy causes in California.

T-shirt’s fellow apologist, the WalMart Real Estate Department Suit, replied that at the very time the public was complaining about this project, WalMart was giving out two scholarships to high school graduates in Merced. He added that the company would be improving and expanding three roads near the distribution center site.

A member of the public with some experience in the trucking industry remarked that the new, “green” trucks WalMart claims it will be using by 2007 would be cycled into their fleet slowly, at a rate of 14 percent per year. He added that the distribution center would not be built if WalMart weren’t planning to build super centers throughout the Valley, including grocery stores, and that the grocery elements of those centers were gutting local economies. He also commented that the reason WalMart would be widening those nearby roads would be to provide space for idling trucks to wait all night in line for the docks.

T-shirt asserted that all WalMart trucks would be green by 2007 and the Real Estate Suit said there would be no food handled at this distribution center.

Why not, we wondered, since it’s located in the middle of one of the most prolific food-production and processing zones in the world.

A former City of Merced department director belligerently announced he was thankful to WalMart for coming to Merced and accused opponents of the project of being outsiders.

An opponent of the project said everyone speaking in opposition was from Merced. “The reason WalMart is under a microscope,” he said, “is because of a long history of exploitation of workers, including three lawsuits against you brought by your own employees.”

He added that for WalMart, full-time employment means 28 hours a week, not 40. Although the company touts its benefits, he asked what employees could afford these benefits.

T-shirt explained there would be three full-time shifts at the distribution center and that full-time employment meant a minimum of 34 hours, with 40 hours “expected.” Medical/dental benefits require only an $11/month payment, he said, while a union charges $30/month for medical/dental coverage and dues.

T-shirt left the issue of the size of the medical/dental co-payment in the WalMart plan unexplored, but claimed 60-percent of WalMart employees have medical insurance.

A member of public asked if WalMart would put in writing that it was not receiving state subsidies for locating its project in a state enterprise zone, in view of the fact Merced citizens were being asked for two tax increases.

“No, we won’t pay for your potholes!” she said. “We want high-paying jobs here and a decent quality of life!”

As T-shirt began to argue about the state enterprise zone, she said: “You should be honest!”

T-shirt continued talking about how WalMart would spend millions in fees and $400,000 for schools.

“We want it in writing,” the critic said.

At this point, an outside agitator from one of Atwater’s famed political donut shops arose to say that Merced County had the highest unemployment in the Central Valley. “The Lord is guiding WalMart to Merced! How are we going to get these empty houses filled without jobs?”

A neighbor of the project site told the panel he thought the fellow from Atwater would be a good WalMart greeter, adding that there is nothing on the CalTrans website indicating the Mission Ave. Interchange overpass would be completed by 2007, that the overpass could not be completed until Highway 99 is widened, and that there is no indication on the website of any plans for landscaping. Meanwhile, traffic at the intersections is already congested, nearby Highway 140 cannot refuse truck traffic, and he thought WalMart had agreed to repair one of the peripheral roads as a feeder route to 140.

T-shirt said WalMart could not speak for the state of California. A member of the audience thought is was likely WalMart had talked to the Merced Council of Area Governments, who does speak about regional traffic plans to CalTrans.

A Merced resident expressed issues with WalMart’s corporate culture. The state’s chambers of commerce and the governor having already shot down the last attempt to get a minimum wage hike in California, he wanted to know if WalMart had a policy about denying benefits to employees who join unions.

T-shirt replied that that was not WalMart’s practice. “We don’t currently have any unions in our stores,” he said, “but there is a lot of opportunity at WalMart.”

“Including for women and minorities?” the citizen asked.

“Yes,” T-shirt replied.

Another resident wanted to know if WalMart did background checks on job applicants and was told it did, on criminal records and drug use.

Earlier, T-shirt had said that part of WalMart’s plan to renovate its truck fleet involved using single tires to replace sets of double tires on its trailers. The resident wanted to know if this practice would cause more wear on the roads. T-shirt replied that would be discussed in the EIR.

A Merced city councilman supplied some facts: that the city’s enterprise zone expired in 2006 but the Mission Interchange project would not be completed by CalTrans by 2007.

Another resident noted that 34-hour weeks at $13.50 would not pay for any of the houses for sale in Merced. Her slogan was: “Let the hiree beware!”

A UC Merced faculty wife, leader of a group called the “Valley Hopefuls,” which she characterizes as “progressives,” and a group called “Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth (MARG),” asked WalMart for a binding contract on issues beyond the scope of the environmental impact report. She asked for a commitment to a certain percentage of profits to come back to the community and 500 of the 600 proposed jobs to go to local residents.

“We are on the same side,” T-shirt said. The location is zoned industrial; that is responsible growth, and the project will aid the parkway to UC Merced.

The faculty wife/organizer, who will leave Merced to return to Palo Alto this summer, curtsied and asked T-shirt if he would like to join MARG.

Some in the audience wondered at this point what the hopeful Valley "progressives," led by the UC faculty wife had expected would happen after UC Merced came to town. Perhaps "progressive," according to UC, means deaf, dumb, asthmatic and blind.

A resident of Planada, a Hispanic who said he was a fifth generation American citizen, said he liked this country “because it allows us to sue you.” He wanted WalMart to hire 100-percent of Planada, suggesting that surely local politicians could work out some kind of deal like that.

A sophomore from the high school near the proposed site said, “We don’t need a 1.2-million square-foot tumor.”

T-shirt again referred to the coming EIR.

The student asked if an EIR were really needed to show that the distribution center would cause a great deal of light, noise and air pollution and traffic congestion.

A local realtor commented that the project was a good one because, “We need something to get this economy going.” (And here we thought the real estate industry was going gangbusters.)

A UC Merced student complained that UC would be paying for part of the parkway and that WalMart should be paying some of it. T-shirt said WalMart would be contributing taxes.

How much, members of the audience wondered, if WalMart is not registering its trucks in California?

T-shirt concluded by saying that double-digit unemployment in Merced was a “huge benefit to WalMart.”

| »


To manage site Login