Air pollution

Sonny Star: full of bull and applepie

Submitted: May 20, 2007
About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction. More than ever, we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. -- Merced Sun-Star, May 19, 2007

This ration of the well-known substance was dished out via Sonny Star, McClatchy's local rent-a-rag, by Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, who began his flak during a breezy week by saying:

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation.

Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. On April 30, the Air District's governing board adopted the first eight-hour ozone plan in California. This overarching and comprehensive plan is designed to help the Valley attain cleaner air, as measured by the federal smog standard, as expeditiously as practicable. The regulatory cost to businesses will be about $20 billion. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air.

Sadredin is willfully confusing the public on behalf of the state regional air board, made up entirely of pro-growth Valley politicians. The board is asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the worst air pollution designation it has to offer, "extreme non-attainment," so that federal highway funds will not be pulled back until developers have all the roads they need for more growth, which will equal more pollution, not however the responsibility of the state board. Presumably, in 2023, Sadredin's two-bit flak successor will be saying our air is even cleaner, but that we must apply for the federal "catastrophic non-attainment" designation so that federal highway funds will not be withdrawn.

As long as the Valley keeps growing, it doesn't matter how many restrictions are placed on stationary-source emissions (mainly farm equipment). It is the cars of the new residents that do the damage. It is the destruction of natural resources to build subdivisions that does the damage.

Until a public coalition actually commits to suing both the federal and state governments simultaneously and is willing to endure the long haul such a suit would entail, nothing will improve and Sonny Star will be printing authoritative "expert" flak about how much cleaner our air is getting every breeze May.

Moving from bull to a related topic, apple pie, we note that righteous members of the local Applepiocracy are suggesting that the CEO of Riverside Motorsparts Pork is really not the proper sort of person we should include in our community. Therefore, the Applepiocrats suggest, the board of supervisors somehow renege on their approval of the RMP permits and zone changes. Because, you see, he is not a nice man. Sonny Star, with his unerring instinct for snobbery and with its contemptuous ignorance of law, is also slinging apple pies at John Condren.

The present public commentary in Merced is filled with bull and apple pie. If this keeps up too much longer, the whole county will be buried by flaky crusted compost (which might be a smoother driving surface than our present streets and roads). And that's just dandy, as long as no one imagines it will stop the increase in air pollution coming to the Valley through "planning" promoted by the University of California, the Merced Association of Governments, the Merced Board of Supervisors, the Merced City Council, the finance, insurance and real estate special interests, the air board and the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint. And, of course, by Sonny Star, who knows which side he's buttered on.

The only black box on the horizon is $5 fuel.

Badlands editorial staff
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5-19-07
Merced Sun-Star
Breathe easier knowing air is cleaner...Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13602031p-14199952c.html

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation. Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air. About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction...we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. By any objective measure, the plan adopted by the air district is a comprehensive effort that leaves no stone unturned...
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5-19-07
Merced Sun-Star
RMP an embarrassment...Marc Medefind, Merced...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13602033p-14199862c.html

Five months ago, the Merced County Board of Supervisors made a decision that rocked the world of citizens who think that clean air, noise restrictions, ag preservation, and traffic concerns should be pre-eminent in the hearts and minds of those they elected to serve. Since then, the "house of cards" known as Riverside Motorsports Park has taken quite a tumble...Sun-Star has published exposés about the background and character of CEO John Condren...documents the seemingly nefarious ways in which he treated both employees and directors. Other articles have exposed the way the RMP Corp. deceived those who were once strong supporters and flouted the laws in Alameda County...paint a picture of an arrogant, egomaniac who apparently did anything to get what he wanted, regardless of statute or ethics. Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron...Where's the money coming from to build this gargantuan track? We still have no answers. Kenny Shepherd ("Advocate to Adversary") once again raised huge questions about character and trust where RMP is concerned...far from rolling in the bucks -- RMP can hardly pay its electric bills. After bamboozling most of Merced County's Supervisors into supporting this farce...milked dry and its directors sent packing...filling local racing fans with dreams of grandeur...overturning common sense ordinances... it doesn't seem too unrealistic that the rezoned land will be sold to investors...Mr. Condren will sail off into the sunset... But maybe that was the plan from day one. Still, it's not too late. Our Supervisors have only to revisit and rescind their unfortunate December decision to prevent this embarrassment from staining our county any further.

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Real nice

Submitted: May 08, 2007

The cities and counties of the San Joaquin Valley have been promoting rampant growth at the expense of the common air quality and asthma for children and elders for 30 years. Part of the reason they get away with it is because their officials control the regional air pollution control district. Within a week of his virtual sponsorship of a proposed 1,200-acre auto-racing facility, including eight tracks designed to draw visitors from a 100-mile radius of central Merced County, former Chairman of the Merced County Board of Supervisors Mike Nelson was appointed to the regional air board.

Last night, before a city council that will shortly decide on a WalMart distribution center that will draw at least 1,000 diesel truck trips a day, the air district executive director had the gall to describe Merced air as "virtually clean." While even the council members would have had trouble choking that down, his real argument was that he estimated that $2 billion in federal highway funds were at stake if the air district did not accept the worst air quality standard the Environmental Protection Agency until 2023 bestows rather than rush to clean up the air quality by 2013.

When it was suggested that, via the politicians on the board, Valley air quality policy was really controlled by business interests (finance, insurance and real estate [FIRE]), the executive director righteously defended business, saying it stood to lose $20 billion under new air pollution laws.

We just love to hear those rhetorical billions thrown all around City Hall.

A representative for Moms Clean Air Network led the attack against FIRE propaganda, quoting the American Lung Association's 2007 report, ranking Merced the sixth highest city in the nation for ozone. By chance, this is about the ranking Merced has for mortgage foreclosures and sub-prime loans in jeopardy.

This fight is going to take more than testimony before bought-and-sold local politicians, or even apple-pie tossing parents of asthmatic children. The Moms are going to have to learn that if you can't break bread with the politicians and sue them the next morning, asthma rates for their children and for their parents will just keep rising. The Mother's Milk in this game is the same-old, same-old cash, courtesy of finance, insurance and real estate interests.

We can understand the desire nice people have to believe nice visions. We want to believe that our Valley towns and cities still hold out some care for the common good and that we can still bury our differences and speak with One Voice to the real enemies (according to our leaders) in state and federal government, enemies who plot 24/7 to steal from the Valley, impoverish our people, lower our quality of life, deny our children opportunity, etc. Of course, THEY have always been after our water.

The problem is that nice is not always the same thing as true.

Top finger pointer of the City Hall event was Councilman Bill Spriggs, chairman of the unsuccessful Measure G campaign to hike sales taxes to develop funds to match federal highway funds to build more highways and expressways in Merced, to encourage more growth as well as service the growth Merced city and county permitted on the come, hoping for those highway funds despite air quality that is a national scandal. Spriggs blamed our dangerous air quality on the Bay Area's failure to build affordable housing, thus causing massive commuter traffic, for our air pollution problem. Last year the National Association of Homebuilders and Wells Fargo Bank ranked Merced and Modesto the fourth and fifth least affordable housing markets in the nation. There were no Bay Area cities in the top 10 least affordable US housing markets. Salinas ranked third. This pathetic apologist for local development interests with national and international ties is peddling a line of the well known substance. This line is intended to make the local citizen feel better -- maybe even nice -- about our poor, overwhelmed but nice city council that so valiantly looks out for our interests. Neither city council members more county supervisors can be held responsible for permitting all the growth. It is a nice belief. It is nice to believe that we can come together and reason with our elected officials and their staff about issues that threaten our common health and safety.

It's not true, but it's real nice.

But, lest the ordinary citizen become dismayed, that nice new UC Merced campus is planning a nice medical school to do some real nice research on respiratory disease. And that's why so many people want to move to Merced to live. And, if that isn't nice enough, UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to put a real nice biosafety-4 biowarfare lab in the hills behind Tracy to do nice studies on the most deadly disease known to man and beast. Real nice.

Badlands editorial staff
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5-8-07
Merced Sun-Star
Some want polluted Valley air cleaned up sooner...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13562018p-14163799c.html

Valley's polluted air drew sharp criticism at Monday night's City Council meeting...Air District Executive Director Seyed Sadredin presented the new cleanup timeline to the council as part of a 58-city tour he's making to promote the plan...told the council that Merced's air is "virtually clean," and that a child born today breathes air that is 50 percent cleaner than 15 years ago. But the region is still plagued by dirty air...conditions that we have no control over," such as the Valley's bowl-like geography. Lisa Kayser Grant, a member of the Moms Clean Air Network, noted that the American Lung Association's 2007 State of the Air Report ranked Merced as the sixth most ozone-polluted city in the nation.

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Ethanol biotech bubble

Submitted: May 01, 2007

The ethanol bubble reveals the pathological side of the political economic system as well as the housing bubble did, and no doubt the same few people involved in ethanol were involved in housing speculation not long ago. The housing bubble pushed our air quality over the edge: the San Joaquin Valley now has as bad or worse air than the Los Angeles basin. Ethanol is shaping up to be nothing but a huge water grab. The ethanol bubble will end about the time a new housing bubble begins.

There is a reason why corn is primarily a Midwest crop. The reason is called rain, as in what Central California doesn't have, being a desert.

As the GMO boys and girls get busy on engineering just the perfect corn for ethanol, gene drift will occur, as it has occurred wherever corn is grown. The ethanol-making genes will drift into corn grown for dairy sillage and get into the milk supply, here in the land free of GMO regulation, perhaps causing gases of another sort. Then UC can study the contribution milk-drinking San Joaquin Valley citizens make to air pollution, along with the bovine flatulence (adding insult to the injury of doubled corn prices and continuing low milk prices to dairymen in the largest dairy state in the nation).

But, that's OK because the honey bees are dying, so the almond growers can convert to ethanol corn and make a real killing before selling for real estate. We know nothing is going to be done about the honey bee collapse because the House subcommittee in charge is chaired by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a man who doesn't like any non-human species that shows signs of weakening. Dairies could follow behind the almonds and everybody could grow ethanol corn with the latest chemical fertilizers and diesel farm equipment.

Federal and state government doesn't solve ag insect problems anymore,it funds them:

Medfly: $150 million since 1980, now proposal for permanent program at $16 million/year; the government cannot control its entry through ports like Long Beach;

Pierce's Disease, Glassy-winged sharpshooter: now spread to 28 counties, control programs in 51 counties, population of GWSS growing, two new infestations last year, 80 research projects, $20 million a year.

No wonder UC Merced wants to start a medical school. It's following a hallowed tradition of colonization of diseases as each generation of government/corporate/university technologists goes to work on the plagues caused by the last generation of the great win-win, public-private funded technologists, and government/corporate/university propagandists keep promising us that famous Black Box. The latest is a UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory biowarfare lab on a site where it also tests depleted uranium bombs near Tracy. So, the UC Board of Regents, under the guidance of Chairman Richard Blum, Sen. Feinstein's husband, dangle the promise of a medical school for the Valley (first conceived for Fresno in the mid-60s) and give you depleted uranium dust and a lab full of the most dangerous pathogens to local agriculture in existence, and hope nothing bad happens because Pentagon biowarfare pork it prime.

Actually, there is a black box. It is called Boomdoggle. It's not a solution for you and me, but it works for people speculating on the next Valley bubble, and who can afford to live outside the worst air pollution area in the nation. But they are the same speculators from finance, insurance and real estate special interests that control the dumbest, most corrupt air quality board in the nation.

Corporate domination of political institutions has meant economy-by-bubble, and each step of the way, working people get poorer, our common environment gets worse, and fewer people get richer. While corn growers yawp about their high prices, the subsidies are going to investors in the ethanol plants. We're a long way from biomass tax breaks now. We've entered the era of high finance in Green Pork.

Way back in 1981, Grass Valley-based folk singer, Utah Phillips, defined the problem in a song called "All Used Up."

I spent my whole life making somebody rich;
I busted my ass for that son-of-a-bitch.
And he left me to die like a dog in a ditch
And told me I'm all used up ...

They use up the oil and they use up the trees,
They use up the air and they use up the sea;
Well, how about you, friend, and how about me?
What's left when we're all used up?" -- Utah Phillips, (c) 1981, On Strike Music.

1 acre foot = 325,851 gallons = 130 gallons ethanol/acre foot (if, as Sacramento Bee editorialists wonder, the USDA figures are right).

Badlands editorial board
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4-29-07
Sacramento Bee
Can't drink ethanol...Editorial
http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/162586.html

Businesses in California are racing to build plants to make ethanol...But it will take the state's most fought-over resource -- water -- to grow the crops used to produce ethanol. Many crops can be used for that purpose, but at the moment ethanol plants are picking corn -- the most water-intensive ethanol crop there is. How much water? How much corn? The answer is startling. According to a study of California agriculture by the respected Water Education Foundation, it takes about 118 gallons of water to grow a pound of corn. And how many pounds of corn does it take to produce a gallon of ethanol? About 21 pounds of corn, according to one publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If these numbers are accurate, the answer is about 2,500 gallons of water. For one gallon of ethanol. There is a goal to produce about a billion gallons of ethanol in California a year. That's about 2.5 trillion gallons of water for 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Take all the water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that now goes to Southern California and Valley farms, use it to grow corn -- and it still wouldn't be enough water. First, a water-intensive crop such as corn in the Central Valley is a bad choice. Second, since there is only so much water for agriculture in California, some other existing crops won't be grown. Third, it behooves the state to grow ethanol crops in the most water-efficient manner possible and set up laws and policies that guide industry in that direction. It is downright scary to see such a rush to ethanol without a better look at the consequences.

4-28-07
Modesto Bee
Flat land
Prices stagnant despite demand for dairy acreage
By JOHN HOLLAND

Farmland in the Northern San Joaquin Valley is pretty flat — at least as property appraisers saw it last year.
Land prices leveled off despite the continuing strength of the almond industry and the demand for dairy acreage and rural homesites, said an annual report from the state chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

"It was a pretty dull year following a huge increase that took place between 2003 and 2005," chapter president Randy Edwards, an appraiser based in Hilmar, said Friday.

The report, released Wednesday in Sacramento, tracked land values around the state for dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, rangeland and other acreage that produces California's bounty.

The per-acre values ranged from $150 for dry rangeland in the state's northeast corner to $600,000 for dairy land in the path of Los Angeles-area growth.

The values varied even for a single crop in a single region, depending on soil quality, water supply and other factors.

An acre of Stanislaus County almond trees, for example, could cost as little as $10,000 if watered from a well or as much as $25,000 if supplied by the Modesto or Turlock irrigation districts.

Dairy, the top farm sector by gross value in the northern valley and statewide, continued to be a major force in land values. These farmers have been adding land for feed crops and for disposing of manure under increasingly strict rules.

The dairy industry has struggled recently, however, with low milk prices, high costs for feed and other factors, as well as the lingering effects of last summer's severe heat wave.

"It appears the market is poised for a downward correction, unless a recovery in milk prices and reduction in feed costs (primarily corn) ensues in the near future," the report said.

Almonds, the region's No. 2 farm product, continue to thrive because of efforts to market the increasing harvests. Nut growers are even moving onto less-than-ideal soil, thanks to advances in tree breeding and irrigation, the report said.

Walnut orchard values continued to be strong. The report noted that this crop has not been as vulnerable as almonds to periods of low commodity prices.

Peach orchards ticked up in value. The report said it was too early to tell whether this was because of an ongoing industry effort to trim the acreage to deal with an oversupply of the fruit.

The report said farmland prices continued to be pushed up by the demand for rural homesites — parcels much larger than city lots but often too small for commercial agriculture. This trend includes grazing land on the west and east sides of the valley, up into Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.

Edwards said the report overall shows that agriculture remains a key part of the valley economy.

"It's not the 800-pound gorilla, but it's stable, with the low spot being the dairy industry and the high spot being the almonds," he said.

The report, "2007 Trends in Agricultural Land and Lease Values," is available for $15 from the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. For more information, call 368-3672 or e-mail secretary@calasfmra.com.

4-30-07
Inside Bay Area
Tracy should ponder benefits from Site 300...Tim Hunt, former editor and associate publisher of the Tri-Valley Herald. He is the principal with Hunt Enterprises, a communications and government affairs consulting firm.
(In other words, one more journalist who has become a flak and a lobbyist -- Badlands)
http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_5779417
LETTERS of support abound as the University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory seek to bring the nations premier agriculture and animal research facility to the labs Site 300 facility near Tracy. The missing letter, unfortunately, is from the nearest municipality to Site 300, the city of Tracy. The University of California is seeking what the Department of Homeland Security calls the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. There are 18 sites across the nation being considered with selection of three to five finalists scheduled in June...new site is scheduled to open in 2013 or 2014 and replace the governments current site at Plum Island off the coast of New York...homeland security department plans to build the lab to research human, zoonotic (animal to human) and animal diseases to counteract the potential terrorist threat of a weapons-grade animal diseases that have both human health effects as well as huge potential to disrupt the food supply. To conduct the research, the facility would contain secure biosafety labs at the level 3 and level 4 (most secure) levels. Forty University of California sites have BSL-3 labs, while there are seven BSL-4 labs operational in the United States. The UC effort has received a strong letter of support from Gov. Schwarznegger, as well as support from Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena, Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and former Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews from the Tracy area, as well as a number of agriculture and animal trade groups, such as the Farm Bureau. The San Joaquin Board of Supervisors is on record favoring the facility. The sticking point is Tracy... The lab and Site 300 management have a good safety record and have significantly upgraded security since the terrorist attacks of 9/11... Theres no BSL-4 further west than Montana despite the Bay Areas growing focus on the biosciences. Agriculture and ranching are huge economic engines in California, and there also are the potential dangers that come with being the container gateway to Asia through ports in Long Beach/Los Angeles and Oakland. The only question should be whether the facility can operate safety at Site 300, because once thats determined, the lab has nothing but upside for the region and the state.

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Where's the apple pie?

Submitted: Apr 30, 2007

The Merced Sun-Star and the noble crusaders against WalMart wildly endorsed UC Merced, anchor tenant for the largest speculative housing boom in Merced history. The Merced Sun-Star endorsed Riverside Motorsparts Pork, which Mike Nelson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, described as his legacy. After the project was approved, due to some backroom financial dealings, disgruntled investors persuaded the paper to run some negative history of RMP boss John Condren's financial dealings.

Now, clean air crusaders and the Merced Sun-Star hurl criticism at the Valley air board, composed of supervisors and council members that have passed every development project that has come their way and have no solution for the resulting air pollution but to diddle the law, with a lot of leadership from their members of Congress, safely stuffed in the pockets of the major polluters.

The Great Valley Center, providing maternal nourishment (thanks primarily to the Packard Foundation) of win-win, public-private partnerships for smart growth and all the rest of the hypocritical propaganda coined by finance, insurance and real estate special interests, has now become UC/GVC, a publicity outlet for our anchor tenant campus for growth. Good-bye Dolly, and Hello level-4 biowarfare lab and depleted uranium bomb tests near Tracy.

Activist moms worried about their children's health should not stop at publishing critical articles in the newspaper. They should all bake apple pies and send them to the members of the air board, just to show how serious they are about the problem and how committed they are to fighting it.

That's sure to do the trick.

Badlands editorial board
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4-28-07
Merced Sun-Star
Leaving a legacy of bad air...Candice Adam-Medefind
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/columnists/story/13530986p-14134811c.html

The red flags that grace our schools to prohibit our children from taking recess or playing sports on bad air days... The Valley is one of the most polluted air basins in the entire country. In addition, Merced, as well as Merced County, ranks among the nation's top ten most polluted cities and counties. Valley residents pay a heavy cost, estimated at more than $3 billion every year or approximately $1,000 per person annually, for this pollution, and our children pay disproportionately. This is why Moms Clean Air Network (Moms CAN) was formed. Currently, our Valley is considered a "serious" nonattainment area for ozone pollution. However, the staff of the SJV Air District has created a plan for an "extreme" non- attainment area. By voluntarily downgrading our status to this worst classification, the air district staff can have the current 2013 deadline for cleaning the air extended to 2024. What's really unconscionable here is that the staff made no effort to draft alternate plans for the other possible deadlines of 2017, 2019 or 2021. To make things worse, this plan to delay only addresses 48 percent of the pollutants under the assumption that the other 52 percent will be solved by some miracle device not yet invented, a metaphorical "black box." The SJVAQCD Board is composed of county supervisors from each of the eight Valley counties and three city council members from throughout the Valley...will decide whether or not to pass the staff's plan at their meeting on Monday. Merced County's district representative on the board is Supervisor Mike Nelson. He must exercise leadership on behalf of our children... Bureaucratic, staff-driven plans will simply not suffice. Cleaning up our air should and will involve sacrifice on the part of both industries and individuals, but the only sacrifice assured by the proposed plan is our children's health.

New clean air deadline stinks...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13530948p-14134828c.html

Each year, more and more hot air is expended by the windbags at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to tell us how the air is going to be cleaned up -- and then nothing much happens but more coughing, choking and wheezing. Their inability to chart a course to clean the air has helped lead to alarmingly high rates of childhood asthma and countless other breathing-related maladies that deteriorate our health and pillage our pocketbooks with medical bills. Monday, the district's board will vote on an ultimate delay: a proposal to extend the federal deadline to clean up our dirty air from 2013 to 2024. We, frankly, think that idea stinks. The Valley shouldn't have to wait 11 more years for clean air. If the board approves the extension on Monday and it does indeed take until 2024 to clean up our air, an entire generation of Valley children will have grown up inhaling some of the nastiest air in the country. The district's professional staff should be ashamed to put forth such an embarrassing delay. We also can't figure out why the district staff is so antsy to get the delay pushed through. Merced County Supervisor Mike Nelson represents Merced County on the board...told CVAQC members that he has not made up his mind. We urge him to vote "no" on the extension, which we think would be a hasty and misguided decision made under a false sense of urgency.

Wal-Mart foes seek documents...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13530939p-14134877c.html

Wal-Mart Alliance for Reform Now, a Florida-based anti-Wal-Mart group, filed a public records request with the city Wednesday asking for all Wal-Mart-related documents -- including e-mails between city staff and Wal-Mart officials -- from 20 city departments. WARN organizer Nick Robinson said the request is designed to bring more public scrutiny to the planned distribution center... Opponents say trucks servicing the center will damage Merced's already poor air quality; supporters say it will eventually create 900 jobs. The City Council will vote on the distribution center later this year. Such requests are standard practice for WARN, which has stopped new Wal-Mart supercenter stores from being built in 24 Florida counties, said Robinson...Wal-Mart isn't going to give us records." The fight against the Merced distribution center is the first campaign WARN has waged outside of Florida...
Quick facts: Wal-Mart Distribution Center
WHAT: The 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week sorting merchandise for Wal-Mart stores. There are currently nine Wal-Mart distribution centers in California.
WHERE: The site is a 275-acre parcel between Childs and Gerard avenues west of Tower Road in southeast Merced. The site is about three-quarters of a mile from the new Mission Avenue interchange.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY: Proponents say the center will bring an economic boost, eventually creating 900 jobs that pay $13 to $14 hourly. Opponents say the estimated 450 trucks that will drive in and out of the center every day will worsen Merced's already poor air quality.
WHAT'S NEXT: Consultants are writing the environmental impact report about the distribution center. The report will likely be released in the fall. After public hearings, the City Council must vote to approve the distribution center if it is to move forward.

4-29-07
Modesto Bee
Builders offer to sweeten the deal...J.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13533578p-14137432c.html

Now home builders are doing something new to attract reluctant buyers: drastically cutting prices...slashed prices. "Some builders are being very aggressive about (reducing) prices and giving incentives," Smiley said. "They're going to sell their houses for what they can get, regardless of what they paid for the land." Meritage Homes this weekend is offering $100,000 "to spend any way you want" including reducing the purchase price at its subdivisions in Ceres, Lathrop, Modesto, Oakdale and Ripon. D.R. Horton is promoting "rock bottom pricing" at its Diablo Grande homes, with reductions and incentives worth up to $80,000. Lakemont Homes' Moraga project in Merced has cut prices $30,000 to $60,000 per home. Its advertisements claim prices for some of its houses are "below builder cost." New America Homes' Mansionettes in Livingston is offering "a $75,000 price reduction on select models" for those who bring in its Modesto Bee ad. "It's very expensive to hold standing inventory," explained Shane Hart, senior vice president for The Grupe Co..."Modesto is one of the most challenging markets in the state right now. Builders are selling less than two homes a month, which is not good,"...Grupe has been offering incentives and lowering prices as much as $55,000 to keep its sales going. "The last three months, we've averaged about one sale per week. We're really happy with that." Hart doesn't expect a quick recover for Stanislaus County's new home market, primary because of tightening requirement for subprime loans.

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UC, Inc.

Submitted: Mar 25, 2007

The price of academic integrity

Jennifer Washburn lays out the case against the British Petroleum/UC,Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, University of Illinois-Urbana deal: $500 million from BP to set up an Energy Biosciences Institute to do BP-directed science for BP profits, using public facilities and publicly paid university sciences.

"Big Oil buys Berkeley" lays out a completely compelling case against the deal. The one thing I thought she missed was consideration of how much $500 million in industry funds could suppress science tending to suggest that biofuels are not the silver bullet for our energy woes.

She touches on another theme, which I would have liked to see her explore further. I guess I'll have to buy her book, University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education.

This is shameful. The core mission of Berkeley is education, open knowledge exchange and objective research, not making money or furthering the interests of a private firm. In the last two decades, however, Cal and other universities — increasingly desperate for research dollars — have signed agreements that fail to protect their essential independence, allowing corporations excessive control over their research.

I agree it is a shameful, probably dangerous corruption of academic independence and the public mission of UC. It is as ethically indefensible as the salaries UC administrators get "so that they will be competitive with private industry standards." I also believe it will have the effect of suppressing ethical concerns at Cal, worsening an already blighted history in that area.

But, is the economic concern accurate? Are universities "increasingly desperate for research dollars"? And, if so, why? I am sure that the answer to that question is extremely complicated, involving the privatization of many formerly government functions, particularly in institutions like the Pentagon and the Department of Agriculture. Bear in mind that UC is a land grant university, whose Cooperative Extension has been working at the county level in California agriculture for many decades, with varied results depending in recent years on what agribusiness lobby is dominating the USDA at the moment.

Public funds, at least in California, account for roughly 25-percent of the UC operating budget. I don't know what the percentage is in New Mexico, where the UC/Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of the state's top employers. While it is safe to say that without that 25 percent, a great many things at UC could not happen. On the other hand, this percentage, shrinking through the years, is not in the commanding position it once was to enforce, economically, the mission of the university -- "education, open knowledge exchange and objective research." State funding of UC has suffered erosion, and is now seen as "local matching funds" somewhat similar to a local sweetener to attract federal highway funds for road projects. UC is funded, overwhelmingly, by private corporations and the federal government (the latter being in some instances pretty much like the former).

Passage in 1980 of the Bayh-Dole Act didn't help. This law enabled universities to

Public confidence in the objectivity of research may be eroded

Academia's relationship with private industry changed in the United States when Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980.1 This law enabled universities to patent their discoveries and license them to private corporations. This policy fostered collaboration between academia and industry, which created jobs and products of immediate commercial value. But the delicate balance between academic and corporate expectations has swung too far toward private profit at the expense of public trust. Universities are threatened by a growing public concern that industry funding distorts research and undermines its traditions of objectivity, independence, and free exchange of ideas. -- The unhealthy alliance between academia and corporate America

--Spyros Andreopoulos, Director emeritus, Western Journal Med. 2001 October; 175(4): 225–226.

Furthermore, the process is well-established and champions of academic independence are not found either on the UC Regents or among UC administrators, who together comprise a committee that must rank among the premier grant whores in the world.

But, what if the public has doubts about ethanol and the genetic engineering that this oil company-funded scientific institute will be doing? How can the public compete against $500 million? What state legislator, during committee meetings on the UC budget (that little 25-percent matching fund) is going to stand up against a half a billion bucks? One can almost hear the sneer of UC lobbyists.

In short, the state's "public research university" has been hijacked by an oil company in what top UC officials are calling another win-win, public-private partnership. This is certainly not the first time this has happened -- consider the land boondoggle of UC Merced as a recent example, and UCM's proposed University Community as another. Novartis paid a mere $25 million to Cal for genetic research a few years ago. Conflict took place, involving Cal environmental scientist, Ignacio Chapela, indigenous cultivars of corn in Oaxaca, GMO gene drift, Nature Magazine and the awesome flak machine of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Novartis chose to duck the heat and leave town. Chapela eventually got his tenure, blocked until he brought a lawsuit, by UC administration.

Let us, for a moment, consider another way of framing the issue, different from the win-win, public-private flak. We do this with apologies to another Cal professor, George Lakoff, one of the nation's leading sophists, who appears to be trying to patent the breath-takingly new idea of teaching liberals rhetoric.

UC depends on prestige for its grants. A one-tune pony, it must constantly employ legions of flaks to sing its song: "UC is the greatest public research university in the universe." In fact, it makes much more sense, producing a much richer sense of reality, to consider UC a public front for corporate and federal government research (much of which is guided by corporate lobbies).

What happens if you take the "public" out of the win-win, private partnership between UC and the oil company? If the public, with its mere 25-percent ante on the table, is unable to guide UC research to something of importance to the public, why not remove the ante and take its money off the table? UC isn't committed to educating the youth of California. UC is about UC prestige in some of the most lethal science and technology known to man. Arnold the Hun and the Legislature remain in the game of matching funds strictly to be seen as Big Shots in the glowing reflection of UC "public" research, which isn't public and may not even be research so much as it is flak-money spent to suppress science suggesting that the corporate sponsor du jour is researching things of actual danger to the public.

Badlands Journal
---------------------

3-24-07
Los Angeles Times
Big oil buys Berkeley...Jennifer Washburn
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-washburn24mar24,1,2582704.story

ON FEB.1, the oil giant BP announced that it had chosen UC Berkeley, in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to lead the largest academic-industrial research alliance in U.S. history. If the deal is approved, BP will give $500 million over 10 years to fund a new multidisciplinary Energy Biosciences Institute devoted principally to biofuels research. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, UC administrators and BP executives immediately proclaimed the alliance — which is not yet a done deal — a victory for higher education and for the environment. But here's another way to see it. For a mere $50 million a year, an oil company worth $250 billion would buy a chunk of America's premier public research institutions, all but turning them into its own profit-making subsidiary. This is shameful. The core mission of Berkeley is education, open knowledge exchange and objective research, not making money or furthering the interests of a private firm. In the last two decades, however, Cal and other universities — increasingly desperate for research dollars — have signed agreements that fail to protect their essential independence, allowing corporations excessive control over their research. Most corporations sponsor university research one study and one lab at a time. With the Energy Biosciences Institute, BP would exert influence over an entire academic research center (spanning 25 labs at its three public partners), bankrolling and setting the agenda for projects that cut across many departments. What's more, BP would set up shop on campus:... BP also would set up private labs on these campuses, where all the research would be proprietary and confidential. The fine print of the plan, which UC made public only after it was leaked, doesn't create much confidence. Californians need to know that their public university is dedicated to pursuing the best science, not just science that generates profits for BP. Five hundred million dollars is a nice chunk of change, but does any amount of money justify "reinventing" UC Berkeley's academic integrity?

| »

Headless Chicken Set ponders Valley air pollution

Submitted: Feb 18, 2007

Greed makes for a debased ideology. I know we Americans pride ourselves on being pragmatic and above ideology, but the last six years should have shown us the limitations of that pretense. It isn't that we don't need ideology, but greed is the wrong basis. Self-interest, reflectively considered, is better. None of us planning to live our lives in the Valley have any reflective self-interest in the current, cynical state of air pollution politics. Yet the ideology of greed proclaims that we must grow and grow and grow and build more highways to accommodate the increased traffic from the growth. Greed compels us to believe "growth is inevitable." Greed forces us to believe there is nothing we can do, no policies we can create, that can stand in the way of the developers' bulldozer blade.

Greed is a liar and believing greed makes liars of us all. Growth is not "inevitable." A glance at American economic history, or the history of any other Western industrial society, will show that growth booms and growth busts, just like the recent speculative housing boom in the Valley. Growth is in fact killing the planet. Corporate business responds by buying science to cast doubt on the reality of global warming. Perhaps money ought not be the final arbiter of absolutely every public policy, but as long as business owns government, money remains the final arbiter.

Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris said his company is "absolutely aware" of residents' concerns about how the distribution center would affect Merced's air. He said Wal-Mart agreed to expand the project's environmental review to help better address those concerns.

That extra analysis added $38,695 to the environmental report's $344,655 price and delayed it by a few months.

"It delays the project, but if it gives everybody a comfort level that these things have been thoroughly evaluated, then it's absolutely the right thing to do," Morris said.

Nowhere locally is this cynicism of money clearer than in the world of San Joaquin Valley air pollution politics. Entering the maze of agencies involved in so-called regulation of our breathing problems is guaranteed to drive a public spirited soul concerned with elemental health and safety issues to a state of gibbering idiocy, at which point she would achieve intellectual unity with agency administrators who make their livings in this particular amusement park.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for monitoring mobile emission sources – trucks and cars that account for 80 percent of the air quality problem. The EPA has recently announced gasoline should use less benzene. This decision was the result of a lawsuit.

The state Air Resources Board and the regional boards like San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, are responsible for stationary emission sources. They look dimly upon farmers’ pumps and other stationary motors but somehow miss the impact of milk trucks. When bond money is generated, CARB has a hand in its distribution. The big plan for the Valley is to use bond money to pay for less polluting cars and trucks. It’s a win-win, public-private partnership!

Then come the CAGs and COGs, countywide or regional associations of the incorporated land-use authorities. These groups, made up almost exclusively of developer-bought local elected officials, are morphodite institutions, combining an alleged concern for air quality with real greed for transportation growth. Given that nothing beyond a speculative investment boom is more growth-inducing than more highways and expressways, the COGs and CAGs are nothing but regional lobbyists for federal highway funds, agencies involved with making sure air pollution issues are safely filed where the sun don’t shine. Lately, they have been peddling – with indifferent success – the idea that local citizens, actually the victims of speculative housing development, ought to pony up more sales taxes so that the local COG or CAG can get its proposals for more new roads and wider highways to the top of the stack at the state Department of Transportation, where the proposals must go before they go to the Federal Highway Authority, the Grandmother of All Pork Barrels. Although Merced has been a national leader in overpriced homes, speculative investment and now falling real estate prices and foreclosures, the people of the county have rejected three such invitations from their CAG to pony up an annual bribe for CalTrans.

Local political genius, Merced City Councilman Bill Spriggs, was the manager of the latest effort, which failed by more than the primary campaign did for the CalTrans bribe. Spriggs reportedly stomped his feet and yelled as newly elected state Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, for not supporting his road-bribe campaign. Galgiani, in an unexpectedly close race, went with the voters rather than the Temper-Tantrum Spriggs, who noted that his sales-tax campaign got more votes in Merced County than Galgiani did. Galgiani didn't need more votes than the CalTrans bribe initiative to win. She needed enough to win. Spriggs lost.

Beyond the COG/CAG level, we now have regional planning partnerships and blueprints. One of the co-chairs of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley is Stockton developer Fritz Grupe. Grupe recently pulled out of a deal to build 3,000 homes from Riverbank to McHenry Ave. last week, and now disputes he owes Riverbank the price of an updated general plan. Was that decision caused by the slump in housing prices or by how working on a partnership for growth from Stockton to Bakersfield has somehow sensitized the developer to the impacts of growth?

All Valley leadership is now marching to a unified theme: We must accept the designation of “severe non-attainment” of air quality goals. Although last year we achieved real parity with Los Angeles as the worst air pollution zone in the nation, this year we will achieve official recognition of this feat. By accepting the lowest standard in the nation, previously achieved only by Los Angeles, the lower the standards we will have to meet and put the date forward. This means that we will be eligible for the immediate future for federal highway funds to build more expressways and wider highways to induce more growth to further lower air quality standards. But, do not think that government is being stupid here. Government knows exactly what it is doing and for whom it is doing it. It only boggles the minds of people concerned about global warming, public health and safety, open space, the future of agriculture and habitat for endangered species.

Although Money buys enormous propaganda campaigns to promote its moral pretensions, It has no values at all beyond its own multiplication.

This was as far as we could get with our analysis of air pollution politics in the San Joaquin Valley. There are further levels. Boards, commissions, and other bodies – all appointed by politicians owned by developers – exist and overlay like fancy new GIS maps the actually elected local officials responsible for land-use decisions in California. Government’s approach to air pollution in the Valley is that whenever one agency gets a little too much heat – whenever the public appears that it might focus on one or a set of regulators to the point of actually achieving some air pollution control – government applies another layer of bureaucratic smog.

Two recent developments are noteworthy. First, UC Merced is ambitiously planning a medical school because, according to its website, the San Joaquin Valley offers a living research laboratory of the effects of air pollution. Cool! Secondly, political consultants are popping up to fleece the boggled citizenry with various schemes for campaigns to make it all better. These efforts seem to rely heavily on the latest principles of public relations. Actually, however, people in the San Joaquin Valley are already aware of air pollution.

The way environmental law and regulation is set up at the federal and state levels, lawsuits remains almost the only way to contest bad decisions by land-use authorities and state and federal regulators. There are several ways to learn this. First, the public can read the bought science in the environmental reviews for the projects, and the subsequent briefs and judicial decisions where legal action is sought against the projects. These are all public documents and this is an area that can be studied and has been successfully studied and analyzed by members of the public. They are creations of the human mind that can be understood by the human mind. Secondly, one can observe the amount of bullying done by politicians. They are at once in the pay of the developers so must approve the projects. On the other hand, they have to manage the public, which they do, more and more frequently as time goes on and the environment gets worse, by intimidation. Third, the public is free to notice that local land-use authorities are now universally indemnified by developers against any legal expenses arising from court challenge to their developments. Fourth, there are the ceaseless efforts to politically and legally strip the environmental laws and regulations of their force. The Pomboza (Rep. Dennis Cardoza and former Rep. RichPAC Pombo) launched a notable effort to gut the Endangered Species Act last year. It cost Pombo his seat because environmentalists, when seriously provoked, are capable of effective political retaliation. But, developer attorneys work ceaselessly to erode existing law and regulation. Not content with constant attacks on environmental law, they also erode First Amendment rights and state government codes – all to get that next project in to profit a developer and finance, insurance and real estate interests behind the developer.

Periodically, physicians appear, unflanked by public health officials, make their dire pronouncements, and disappear, absorbed back into their mysterious and awesome guild. Even doctors think the air pollution is getting pretty bad, the newspapers dutifully report. There must be something to it.

The public is vastly superior in numbers, but disorganized compared with developers with their clear, simple profit motive in mind and bought elected officials with the same simple goal. However, the public could focus its energy immediately on a campaign to stop growth until adequate general plans are written and to stop forever the extremely corrupt practice of developer indemnification of legal expenses to land-use authorities that approve utterly environmentally irresponsible projects. If land-use authorities were made financially responsible for the legal consequences of their decisions, they might be more careful. If forced by the voters to make a real new general plan instead of one more consultant special cooked up in the usual backroom by the usual suspects, the process might focus their attention on the mess they have created and called “inevitable growth.”

San Joaquin Valley air pollution is going to get worse because nobody appears at the moment willing to fight it publicly beyond the odd press release, the occasional workshop, and the rare lawsuit. To appear to stand against “inevitable growth,” even in the midst of the worst real estate bust in Valley history, for a livable environment, and to cease making common cause with our own gravediggers, is too much for the Headless Chicken Set. And that is why we have air pollution policy and regulation in the Valley that has been designed by the State and National Win-Win Public-Private Consortium of Developers and Headless Chickens.

It’s a hard thing to explain to a kid with asthma, but the consortium no doubt has a grant to development literature for children.

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

Notes:

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.
The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.
We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.
Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority — city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county’s infrastructure.
Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge
VernalPools.Org
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
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

2-16-07
3,000 homes in Riverbank halted...Eve Hightower

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13300327p-13929010c.html
A developer that had hoped to build a 3,000-home community on more than 850 acres northwest of Riverbank no longer is interested....Grupe, a Stockton-based developer, had agreements to buy the acreage to build an upscale community called The Bridges, so Riverbank would stretch almost to McHenry Avenue. Grupe also is no longer interested in paying for the city's general plan update. It already was paying toward a promised $400,000; the entire plan was expected to cost $500,000.
"Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. I thought Grupe was going to pay for it whether they built or not," Mayor Chris Crifasi said at a City Council meeting this week. Grupe pulled out last week, citing concerns about a slowdown in the housing market... This is not the first time that Grupe offered to pay for an overdue general plan that involved expanding city boundaries to include land Grupe was interested in developing. Grupe also helped pay for Waterford's update as the plan explores allowing development in an area where the company is interested in building a 350-acre subdivision called Lake Pointe.

Valley hit hard by falloff in home sales, prices...Martin Crutsinger
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13300373p-13929057c.html
The slump in housing deepened in the final three months of last year with sales falling in 40 states and median home prices dropping in nearly half the metropolitan areas surveyed. While some economists said they believed the worst may be over for housing, others predicted more price declines to come until near-record levels of unsold homes are reduced. The National Association of Realtors said the states with the biggest declines in sales from October through December compared with the same period in 2005 were: Nevada, down 36.1 percent; Florida, down 30.8 percent; Arizona, down 26.9 percent; and California, down 21.3 percent. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, predicted that home prices in many parts of the country would continue to be under pressure for the rest of this year as the market works through still large inventories of unsold homes. "We are seeing the declines concentrated in the industrial Midwest, where the job market is a mess due to the layoffs in the auto industry, and in markets such as Florida and California" where a heavy influx of speculators had bid up prices, Zandi said.

Vacant and costly...J.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13300377p-13929065c.html
Record numbers of homes are sitting vacant awaiting buyers in the United States. That's about 62 percent more than usual, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The glut of vacant houses is readily apparent throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, as bank foreclosures and former rental homes flood the for-sale market. Stanislaus and Merced counties, in fact, have among the highest foreclosure rates in California, according to the January 2007 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report from RealtyTrac.com. Stanislaus County had 355 homes in mortgage default and facing possible foreclosure in January. That means about one in 425 homes are in the process of being taken over by lenders. The situation is worse in Merced County, where 189 homes — or one in 362 existing homes — were in default in January. Porter said foreclosure rates tend to go up when the real estate market slumps because homeowners can't sell fast enough or get the price they need to save their homes from default. That combination of a slow sales market, weak rental market, soaring foreclosure rate and excess new home construction created the glut of vacant homes for sale, Porter said.

2-15-07
Merced Sun-Star
Two doctors voice opposition to Wal-Mart plan...Leslie Albrecht

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13296668p-13925833c.html
Dr. John Holmes, a Merced orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Bob Vizzard, a Stockton emergency room physician, charged that fumes from diesel trucks driving to and from Wal-Mart's warehouse facility would damage Merced's already poor air quality and trigger asthma attacks and premature deaths. Consultants are studying the project's possible environmental impacts now; it won't go before the City Council for a vote until at least August, said Planning Manager Kim Espinosa. Holmes said measures to lessen the facility's impacts on air quality weren't sufficient. He accused the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District of acting irresponsibly by working with Wal-Mart to lessen possible air quality damage. "How can you allow a polluting project in here when you can't even control or mitigate the pollution that you already have?" said Holmes, who was also a vocal opponent of the Riverside Motorsports Park. "It's obvious this is inappropriate." In August 2006, the air district requested that the environmental impact report on the proposed distribution center include what's called a human health risk assessment... When the draft of the environmental report is released, the public will have 45 days to submit comments on the document. After consultants prepare written responses to each comment, the Planning Commission will vote on whether to recommend certification of the environmental report and on whether to approve the project. That vote probably won't happen until late summer. After the Planning Commission's vote, the City Council will issue the final decision on the project, Espinosa said

Fresno Bee
Vanishing farmland...Editorial

http://www.fresnobee.com/274/story/29995.html
Farming is the foundation of the Valley's economy, and a constant refrain hereabouts is that we need to save productive farmland from urban development. We're not doing a very good job of living up to those sentiments, though. A study just released by the state shows just how badly our deeds contradict our words: Urbanization of farmland in the Valley increased to an unprecedented pace in recent years, to the point that between 2002 and 2004, some 26 acres a day were being removed from farming and dedicated to other purposes. Fresno County led the state during that period in the pace of urbanization of its farmland. Other Valley counties posted significant losses. There are many reasons for this. Growth continues at a rapid rate, and people need homes and employment centers. Land is worth considerably more for development than it fetches as farm land. Some farmers can't wait to sell their land and cash in; others do so reluctantly -- but they do it, because the money is very seductive. Some are pushed out; they want to continue farming, but adjacent development brings pressure to get out of agriculture... The boom in housing construction in recent years accelerated the turnover of productive farm lands to urban uses. Los Angeles and Orange counties were once mighty producers of food, but there aren't even any commercial orange groves left in Orange County. Silicon Valley used to be a rich agricultural area; now the only things grown there are high-tech companies and expensive homes. That may be the fate of the Valley as well. But surely something important will be lost: There is no place on earth so well-suited to agriculture than the Valley. And the ramifications of losing all that domestic food production include an increased reliance on imports from other countries, with many attendant risks. There are ways to stop the loss of ag lands. Conservation easements and similar tools let farmers sell development rights, often in perpetuity, and remain in farming. Better planning could reduce the friction between urbanizing communities and surrounding farm operations. And cities like Fresno could start building up instead of out to accommodate population growth. But each of these solutions requires the will to employ them. And that's not much in evidence among elected officials and the special interests they often serve. So we may go on bemoaning the loss of the Valley's precious farm land -- and doing very little to slow or stop it. At least until we decide whether we really believe what we say.
2-14-07
Fresno Bee
State says San Joaquin Valley farmland being lost to development...AP

http://dwb.fresnobee.com/state_wire/business/story/13294092p-13923622c.html
In just two years, more than 18,800 acres of farmland in several San Joaquin Valley counties became subdivisions, shopping malls or other developments, setting a new state record for loss of farmland, according to newly released state data. A healthy real estate and construction market spurred farmers in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties to sell 18,801 acres between June 2002 and June 2004, said Molly Penberth, manager of the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Department of Conservation. Preliminary data from the program that tracks land development, found roughly 26 acres of farmland were removed from production each day in the two-year period...

Modesto Bee
Firm donated to backers of supervisors...Garth Stapley

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13293157p-13922748c.html
A company in hot competition for Stanislaus County supervisors' approval of a large development project recently gave $33,000 to groups trying to influence the campaigns of two supervisors. PCCP West Park LLC contributed $28,364 to an Elverta group that produced mailers attacking the opponent of Supervisor Jeff Grover before his November re-election. West Park also donated $5,000 to a group that slammed Supervisor Dick Monteith. Tuesday, West Park pitched its multimillion-dollar development plan for the Crows Landing Air Facility to supervisors, including Grover and Monteith.
Air facility proposals take wing at Board of Supervisors meeting...Tim Moran
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13293167p-13922767c.html
Opinions voiced Tuesday on the two proposals to develop the 1,528-acre former naval air base were varied...Texas-based Hillwood Inc. and Sacramento-based PCCP West Park LLC, each gave an hour synopsis at the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting of how they wanted to develop the base. West Park plan sparks most comment... Official: Continue working together...Supervisors questioned the developers on farmland mitigation, potential housing development and any expectation of local government money. Both developers said they had no plans for housing outside of incorporated cities and also said they had no need for local subsidy. Kamilos said he favors farmland mitigation and will provide farmland easements to replace developed farmland on an acre-for-acre basis. Magness said he didn't think the board should require farmland mitigation on a military base redevelopment project, but said Hillwood will comply with whatever the board decides. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the matter at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Fresno Bee
Explosive growth paves over farmland...Sanford Nax

http://www.fresnobee.com/170/story/29764.html
The urbanization of farmland in the central San Joaquin Valley sped up between 2002 and 2004, with an equivalent of 26 acres converted to nonagricultural uses each day, according to newly released data. The amount of ag land in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties converted to other uses in 2002-04 was a record -- and reflected an increase of 4,000 acres over the previous two-year period of 2000-02, the state reported. Fresno County lost more irrigated farmland in those two years than any other county in the state, closely followed by Kern County, said Molly Penberth, manager of the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Department of Conservation. Forty-three percent of the 18,801 acres removed from farm use in those five counties was in Fresno County, the No. 1 agriculture county in production value in the nation. The report, to be released in the next few months... The state also noted that Merced County's urbanized area grew by 1,852 acres from 2002 to 2004.

2-10-07
Washington Post
New EPA rules for gasoline limit benzene, a carcinogen...Juliet Eilperin
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/09/AR2007020902055.html
The Environmental Protection Agency issued rules yesterday that will dramatically cut toxic fumes from cars and trucks over the next 25 years...regulations, which will reduce the amount of cancer-causing benzene in gasoline and set tighter emission standards for autos in cold temperatures and for fuel containers, will help reduce toxic emissions from passenger cars by 80 percent from 1999 levels by 2030. Among air pollutants, benzene -- which naturally occurs in crude oil and is increased through refining to boost gasoline's octane rating -- poses the second-biggest cancer risk to Americans, after diesel emissions. Environmentalists, who had successfully sued EPA for failing to issue a benzene ruling by 2004, hailed yesterday's move but questioned the decision to allow refineries to trade emission credits.

New York Times
E.P.A. limits the benzene in gasoline by 2011...Felicity Barringer
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/10/washington/10benzene.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring significant reductions in the amount of cancer-causing benzene and other toxic hydrocarbon gases in gasoline and released into the air during storage and use, under a rule released Friday. The final rule, issued under a court-ordered deadline set after environmental groups filed suit about two years ago, provides more uniform reductions around the country than the agency had originally proposed. The rule puts a ceiling on the total benzene content of any gasoline produced after 2011...rule limits opportunities for those refineries that are not meeting the benzene limit to meet their obligation by buying credits from other refineries whose gasoline more than meets the standard. In addition to the new benzene limits for gasoline, the new rule also orders cuts for benzene levels in tailpipe emissions and pungent benzene vapors escaping from gasoline cans. The agency estimated that the new rule, called the Mobile Source Air Toxics rule, would result in 33,000 tons of reductions by 2015... “Cars and trucks put out a whole toxic soup of pollutants,” Emily Figdor of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, one of the two groups that sued the agency, said in an interview. “The administration is going after one of them. Benzene poses a whole host of health risks. It’s a good thing that they strengthened the standard.” California’s current standard for benzene is already below the new national standard, so that state’s 13 refineries are not affected. Marti Sinclair of the Sierra Club, which was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, it was too much. “We are happy that E.P.A. has addressed this important public health issue at last,”...“It is disappointing that E.P.A. would undermine its own program by adopting this dangerous trading scheme.”

For Immediate Release: February 8, 2007
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=821
EPA LIBRARY SYSTEM CONTINUES TO IMPLODE — Union Charges EPA with Unfair Labor Practice for Refusing to Consult on Closures

Washington, DC — Despite public pledges of cooperation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to consult with its own employees about the effects of past or schedule of future library closures, according to an unfair labor practices complaint released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the face of growing congressional opposition, EPA continues to shutter libraries and make collections unavailable both to its own staff and the public.
The unfair labor practice complaint was filed on Monday, February 5, 2007 by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals, Council 238 before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The complaint centers on the closure of the EPA Regional Library in Chicago and charges that EPA has refused to bargain on the impacts this action has on scientists and other specialists. The complaint asks for intervention to force EPA to enter binding arbitration on the subject.
“EPA touts its outreach efforts but has refused to consult with its own professionals or anyone else prior to hacking apart its library system,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “It is ridiculous that our nation’s top environmental professionals have to wage legal battle just to keep access to information.”
This Tuesday, in an oversight hearing before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson testified that only five of the 26-library network had been closed. In fact, additional libraries have been shut, including, most recently the EPA Regional Library in Atlanta (serving eight southeastern states) where virtually all services have been transferred to Cincinnati. When confronted by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the committee chair, Johnson said he knew nothing about this functional shuttering of the Atlanta facility.
The rationale for EPA’s library shutdowns has shifted. Originally it was to save funds but agency studies show that its libraries produce cost savings several times their budgets by eliminating staff time that would otherwise be spent on tracking down documents. In addition, EPA’s plan to digitize tens of thousands of documents will likely cost far more than the $1.5 million it estimated it might save.
Now, EPA claims that it wants to modernize its information system, even as its budget is being cut – the FY 08 proposed budget unveiled by President Bush this week would cut EPA’s budget by 6.6%. The agency, however, has not described how the new system it is implementing on a piecemeal basis will ultimately function. Nor is it known how this still-developing new system will perform any better.
“EPA is forcing its entire staff to become their own librarians, wasting countless hours and sacrificing access to mountains of information formerly available,” Goldberg continued. “These shuttered libraries handled tens of thousands of information requests each year, not the handful that EPA is now implying.”

2-5-07
Fresno Bee
Valley lobbies for air cleanup funds
Agency wants $250 million from Proposition 1B.By E.J. Schultz

http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/28090.html
SACRAMENTO — A newly launched effort to clean the Valley's air will face an early test in Sacramento this year when regulators begin to dole out $1 billion in air quality bond money. The Valley's air pollution agency is lobbying for at least $250 million to help replace polluting cars and trucks — a key part of a 16-year, $3 billion plan to meet federal clean air standards ...The $1 billion in clean air money is contained in Proposition 1B, the $19.9billion transportation bond approved by voters in November. The ballot measure calls for the air money to be spent to reduce emissions along trade corridors.

2-7-07
Breathing hard as air goes bad...Michael G. Mooney

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13270230p-13903091c.html
Over the past few days, the air in Modesto and the Northern San Joaquin Valley was as bad as, or worse than, it was in Fresno and other Central Valley locations. "Basically a strong high-pressure system has moved over California, creating a lid over the entire San Joaquin Valley," said Ferreria, an air quality project planner at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District...a "bowl" effect is created...Dust, ash, smoke and soot become trapped and hang in the air. Robert Martella, pharmacist..."The albuterol is flying off the shelves,"..."So are the other inhalers, especially for children."...he noticed a weekend sales spike in medicine used by asthmatics, which coincided with poor air quality recorded in and around Modesto. With the high pressure in place, Ferreria said, air movement is at a minimum, causing it to grow increasingly dirty and increasingly unhealthy to breathe. A few days ago, Ferreria said, the ridge settled directly over California, trapping pollution in the atmosphere throughout the entire eight-county Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Fresno Bee
Valley can clean its air quicker, study says...Mark Grossi

http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/28460.html
Valley residents can breathe clean air 11 years sooner than the local air district has predicted and save more than $5 billion in health-care costs...nonprofit International Sustainable Systems Research Center released a study that encourages swifter cleanup of diesel pollution and tougher rules for businesses — such as forbidding the use of older, polluting farm tractors on bad smog days. Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, replied that even if he followed all the suggestions, the Valley would still come up short...said the research center used outdated estimates of the Valley's pollution emissions. The recommendations also address further restriction of farm irrigation engines and wine fermentation. Another suggestion would regulate composting and green waste facilities years earlier than the district anticipates, according to the study. But those changes would affect only 30% of the problem. The study noted the air district does not have direct control over 70% of the problem — vehicles. The state and federal governments regulate vehicles, planes, trains and other so-called mobile sources. Diesel and other vehicle pollution are the biggest obstacles to a smog cleanup. The research center's study, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is likely to attract wide interest in California...

1/31/07
Fresno Bee
Don't hold your breath...Editorial

http://www.fresnobee.com/274/v-printerfriendly/story/27238.html
The Valley's air district has proposed dropping into the worst category for non-attainment of clean air standards...the district has decided that we can't meet the existing deadline of 2012. Moving from the current "serious" category to extreme would put the Valley in uncomfortable company. Los Angeles is the only region in the worst-offender ranks now. But it would extend the deadline, and finesse some stiff penalties from the federal government - principally the threat to freeze some $2 billion in highway funds. "Even if money were no object...is still physically impossible to get the pollution reductions we need by 2012," said district executive director Seyed Sadredin. Perhaps. But we might get the job done a lot faster with more cooperation from state and federal agencies - particularly the feds. Vehicles are responsible for about 80% for the smog-forming emissions that plague us. And the Valley air district - indeed, local government at all levels - is powerless to do a thing about it. Control of so-called "mobiles sources" rests with Sacramento and Washington. So, yes, perhaps this slide into extreme non-attainment is inevitable - because we didn't do enough to stop it, in Washington, in Sacramento or here at home. Meanwhile, if the air district has its way, a child born in the Valley today will graduate from high school before he has a chance to breathe clean air.

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McClatchy-Merced launches investigation of RMP chief John Condren

Submitted: Jan 29, 2007

McClatchy-Merced is digging up dirt on John Condren, CEO of the Riverside Motorsports Park, whose massive auto-racing project was approved last month by the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

Before going into what meager details the investigation has so far revealed, a little perspective on McClatchy's recent "news" offerings is required.

Big McC- Modesto reported Sunday that "visionaries" see a whole new city growing up in northern Merced County, made of unincorporated Delhi, Hilmar and Stevinson, housing as many as 50,000 people. McClatchy-Modesto goes on to report a big meeting on this subject between Rep. Dennis Cardoza and Turlock Mayor John Lazar. The article presents Riverside Motorsports Park, which claims it will produce 50,000 more people for feature events, as the anchor entertainment tenant for north Merced County growth. Much is said about sewer capacity, but Hostetler's totally illegal, 42-inch sewer trunk line aimed toward Stevinson from Livingston's sewer plant is not mentioned. Supervisor Diedre Kelsey, in whose district most of this growth is envisioned to happen, said:

"We just spent five years and more than a million dollars on the Delhi Community Plan. Then the county waltzes in and throws this out without letting me know about it. "Why do we create these (growth plan) committees, tell them we're going to work with them, then shaft them?" Kelsey continued. "I am not a happy camper. I hate to be a scold, but something has to change. We're going to get San Jose gridlock if we don't think a little smarter."

Elsewhere in the pages of local McClatchy outlets a different story is being told: of a mounting foreclosure rate, of developers walking away from options, of the end of the speculative housing boom. However, this obese media conglomerate tells the story strictly from the point of view of finance, insurance and real estate interests. Faced with real news about the tragedies unfolding throughout the north San Joaquin Valley, they quote predators blaming their victims, who are not interviewed about who qualified them for loans they did not understand, who foreclosed on their mortgages and what these victims of predatory lending and real estate huckstering are going to do now.

McClatchy has made a fortune off real estate and finance advertising, urging everyone to "realize the dream of home ownership" in one of the nation's least affordable housing markets. Thousands of speculators plunged into this market, now renting their properties for a quarter or a third the price of the mortgage.

Rising foreclosure rates are beginning to look a bit like the number of dead rodents observed at the beginning of plague outbreaks. The former Pombozastan, the 11th and 18th congressional districts of the north San Joaquin Valley, nationally famous for its aggression against federal environmental law and regulation, is drowning in red ink.

McClatchy is now reduced to writing stories about visions of growth to show it stands squarely behind the disappearing advertising revenue of the huckster class in a region without the jobs to stimulate the demand for housing. This boom was caused by a surplus of real estate speculation, not by genuine demand for housing that few locals could afford except for awhile through time-bomb loans.

In California, land-use decisions are made predominantly by city councils and county boards of supervisors. Reason and legislative intent would suggest that these elected officials would have some care for the health and welfare of their existing communities and would not fall for each and every vision produced by huckster speculators.

Obviously, that is not how it works. The huckster comes to the local land-use authority with a project. If it is sizeable, the huckster provides planning help and biologists to fashion the environmental documents to suit the needs of their employer. Local land-use officials judge the veracity of these documents by weight: the heavier they are the better their arguments must be.

Meanwhile, the huckster has signed an indemnification agreement with the local land-use authority, stating that if some members of the public sue the land-use authority for its approval of the project's environmental documents, regardless of the merits of the public's case, the huckster will pay all legal costs arising from the lawsuits.

Indemnification allows elected officials to treat public opposition to development projects with complete contempt -- and they do. They don't read comment letters and they frequently insult opponents of development when they testify. They just pass the public comment letters on to the hucksters' lawyers. "Your problem now." As long as it doesn't cost the city or county anything in legal expenses, why not approve it?

The answer to that question lies in the legal briefs of the lawsuits brought against those projects. These briefs are taboo topics for the newspapers. Lawsuits against development projects represent opposition to the hand that fattens McClatchy. The conglomerate media chain considers its own interests and allies itself with special interests rather than the common good. McClatchy's idea of a story on the impending environmental disaster in the north San Joaquin Valley is to support Cardoza-UC/Great Valley's call for wider highways, more parkways and more highway interchanges?

McClatchy-Sacramento has now taken to calling people who defend the laws of public process in California "voyeurs." It is a laughably fake journalism to write a story about the Brown Act, which provides Californians with open meeting laws, while simultaneously calling people who insist on their rights under the act as "voyeurs." This attack includes the unsubtle suggestion that if one is not a Big McC professional journalist, he should not be sticking his nose in public business. We have reached a point in most of Central California that what the McClatchy Co. says is news is the only news.

If members of the public Big McC labels "voyeurs" protest that a land-use authority has violated the Brown Act, the politicians say, "Who cares? We're indemnified."

Rather than face the issues on the Riverside Motorsports Park, now that its environmental review has been approved and two lawsuits have been filed against it, Big McC Merced has launched a terrific personal attack on John F. S. Condren, CEO for RMP.

It seems that McClatchy-Merced rag was provided a big bucket of the well known substance and instructed to throw at at the barn door to see what stuck. This, after it endorsed the project and misled potential litigants about the deadline for filing lawsuits against it. Real investigative reporting would have started by reading the environmental impact reports on the project, the briefs of the suits filed against it, and familiarity with basic environmental law.

A racetrack huckster is accused of having lied about his resume.

This is news?

From the standpoint of public health and safety, are the lies Condren is accused of telling on his resume more important than the environmental impacts of his project? Is the story that he may have bilked some Mormon investors in Nauvoo, IL more important than that his project may finally solidify the San Joaquin Valley's position as the worst air pollution basin in the United States, surpassing Los Angeles at last? Is the story that this man went bankrupt twice more important than what his project would do to traffic congestion on narrow county roads used for farm equipment transport, moving cows on foot, or for moving huge quantities of nuts to local processors during the harvest season?

And what about some sort of perspective on the project? What is the point of bringing an eight-track major stockcar venue, which will attract up to 50,000 spectators on feature event days, at the same time as US military forces are losing one war for oil resources and about to start another? What is the message here? We should worship the automobile, the ultimate cause of our resource wars? Or have we been simply inundated with propaganda through our McClatchy outlets for so long we don't know any better? The University of Calfornia has already contaminated groundwater near Tracy with depleted uranium at its bomb-testing site, and now it wants to build a biowarfare lab there, testing the most dangerous toxins known to man. But for years, our conglomerate media has been selling visions -- the sales pitches of private and public hucksters. From Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the Cowgirl Chancellor of UC Merced through Condren, we've been fed a steady diet of their greedy dreams, based on the exploitation of our land, water, air, and economy?

The problem McClatchy now faces is that all those greedy visions were profit centers for the newspapers. Now they are disappearing, leaving a foreclosure glut in place of a speculative boom in real estate. People in foreclosure are not good advertisers.

McClatchy also faces a crisis in political access. The Pomboza is defunct, Cardoza failed to gut the Endangered Species Act, UC Merced failed to ram its mitigation through federal agencies and is being sued on its community plan, Cardoza and irrigation districts failed to destroy the San Joaquin River Settlement, and -- through the Riverside Motorsports Park approval -- the Merced County Board of Supervisors has been revealed possibly to have been the marks in a long confidence game, which does not inspire confidence in the veracity of their obligatory quotes.

Didn't anyone remember Anne Eisenhower, the "president's granddaughter"? The blonde with the big hats, the big plans for Castle and the non-existent investors? Didn't anyone at the McClatchy outlet remember the immortal lead of pre-McClatchy reporter, Gary L. Jones, on another scam at Castle: "Ding, ding, ding goes the bell. Bounce, bounce, bounce goes the check"?

The factual situation is that two lawsuits have been filed against the Merced County Board of Supervisors, the elected county land-use authority, and a limited liability company called Riverside Motorsports Park. Petitioners argue that the board's approval of the project was illegal for a number of reasons.

There is always dirt. The hit on Condren raises questions.

Who wants the dirt dug up?

When do they want it dug up? (There is very little in this information that was not available before the board approved the project)

Why do they want it dug up?

Are any members of the Nicholson Co. related to county Assistant Planning Director Bill Nicholson?

Other, more speculative questions include:

If Condren truly is the former Nauvoo bunco artist the paper portrays him to be, is it possible, through a shell game with companies, he has managed to escape the indemnification agreement with the county?

If its indemnification is shaky and Condren is absent, what will the county do?

Could these cases lead to judicial review of the corrupt practice of development-project proponents indemnifying the land-use authorities charged with approving their projects under the California Environmental Quality Act?

If Condren actually did break some serious laws and was indicted, what testimony could he offer about how approval of the racetrack project was obtained?

Badlands editorial staff
------------------------------

Notes:

1-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Numbers don't add up for RMP -- never did...Steve Cameron
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/columnists/story/13242383p-13878034c.html
Apparently John Condren, the traveling start-up guru who insists he can plop a $250 million racing complex onto a local almond orchard, fudged a bit on the resume he's been selling. Condren's now had to change several things on his Web site bio and backpeddle on a few other curious tidbits... Imagine how that news might play with his would-be partners at NASCAR... Whatever Condren's background and how much of it might be true, it really isn't going to matter much if we're talking about the future of Riverside Motosports Park -- and more specifically, whether Merced County ever might be home to a massive auto-racing project with a price tag in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion bucks. The thing's never going to happen. ...the super-sized monster that Condren's been pitching to Merced politicians and business leaders doesn't have a chance in hell. Never. ...some good news...ultimately we'll see a racing complex built somewhere in the general vicinity of Castle Air Force Base...whatever turns up won't be anything like Condren's proposed Disneyland-with-engines. And it'll cost less...with a price tag somewhere in the $20 million range is not only feasible, it makes good business sense. But the guy's history suggests ideas involving monstrous amounts of money -- not to mention a couple of bankruptcies -- and he definitely enjoys living large... Nobody in Merced County ever has done any serious checking about this kind of megacomplex and where anyone would find the money to build it, so let me help you out. I've talked to people at NASCAR, to track operators, to investment firms who loan money for such things -- and most of them think I'm joking when they hear the full Riverside proposal. "There is no way -- none -- that you could spend $250 million for any kind of auto racing complex in Merced County unless you're Bill Gates and doing it just for a hobby. "It is totally impossible for a racing facility there -- a place without Nextel dates, on top of it -- to generate a fraction of the revenue necessary to handle the debt service just to build the thing. Consider AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants' sparkling facility that cost well north of $350 million when it was privately financed a few years ago...Principal owner Peter Magowan couldn't find a bank in California to loan the $175 million... If that's a problem for the Giants with their string of sellouts and major advertising deals...imagine where on earth anyone would find that kind of money running a motorsports complex which -- sorry for this -- is still considered in the middle of nowhere? "There just aren't going to be 50,000 people coming to Merced County for what would be middle-tier racing at best," admitted a member of Condren's original investment group. "It won't work the way he's been selling it, and it was never going to work." Nope.

Modesto Bee
Tee up 9 more holes, a town?...Garth Stapley
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13242325p-13877977c.html
TURLOCK -- The men behind JKB Homes...In fields beyond 60 older homes in two nondescript subdivisions bordering the Turlock Golf & Country Club, the builders envisioned a new town...if allowed by Merced County leaders: Add nine holes around which thousands of homes could be built. Plans covering 1,600 acres also feature a village center with shops, lakes and two sites for future Hilmar Unified School District schools. But the focal point remains the golf course. Built in 1925, it's surrounded mostly by dairies and open farmland. In May, JKB quietly submitted a request to Merced County officials for a "guidance package," or a preliminary development plan and schedule. A response from the county is expected in a few months.

1-28-07
Modesto Bee
Gearing up for Growth...Garth Stapley...EDITOR'S NOTE: First in a two-part series.
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13240230p-13875857c.html
A rural swath straddling two counties south of Turlock could be teeming with new homes and tens of thousands of people in the next couple of decades. If plans materialize, unassuming, unincorporated Stevinson, Delhi and Hilmar, plus a new town proposed between the last two, collectively could produce about 50,000 more people. That's like squeezing what would be Merced County's second-largest community, in terms of population, into a relatively compact, unincorporated patch of north Merced County. Turlock is eyeing a southward growth surge... Visionaries see the area producing one of the state's next cities. That would be Delhi...next door, developers want a new, unincorporated town to spring up around the Turlock Golf & Country Club...down the road in Atwater, plans roll on for an eight-track, $240 million raceway complex... The potential for a significant growth wave came up last week in a Washington, D.C., lunch meeting between Rep. Dennis Cardoza and Turlock Mayor John Lazar... But the very prospect of that many more cars, homes and people demands close attention, said Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who represents most of the area in the potential growth explosion. "We're going to have to approach growth in a very moderate, phased, well-planned method," Kelsey said, "or we're going to have pandemonium." Holding back the tide for now is a lack of adequate asphalt. Roadway, exit changes needed...Charlie Woods, Turlock's community development director. "The whole key is having a connection to 99." Merced County planners will continue shaping a growth plan for Hilmar that would allow it to double in size...owners of land around the famed Stevinson Ranch golf course will bide their time, hoping someday to see nearly 19,000people where now there are 400...Delhi remains the developers' best hope in the near future. Stores would bring tax revenue...That would change in a big way with new shopping centers along Highway 99...stores, planners say, could provide a tax base needed for Delhi to become a city. The advisory council studies and debates and recommends, but has no real control over Delhi's destiny. That power rests with the Merced County Board of Supervisors, whose five members have only one -- Kelsey -- representing the town. A 3-2 majority last month sold out Delhi, Kelsey said, with a vote favoring the Riverside Motorsports Park. Planners went behind her back, she said, to justify a traffic route to the complex from interchanges in and near Delhi. "I'm fairly well disgusted," Kelsey said. "We just spent five years and more than a million dollars on the Delhi Community Plan. Then the county waltzes in and throws this out without letting me know about it. "Why do we create these (growth plan) committees, tell them we're going to work with them, then shaft them?" Kelsey continued. "I am not a happy camper. I hate to be a scold, but something has to change. We're going to get San Jose gridlock if we don't think a little smarter." Sewage expansion...Supervisors supporting the raceway say it presents a golden opportunity to give Merced County a much-needed economic shot in the arm. Delhi's advisory council members, meanwhile, are preoccupied with a more immediate problem: sewage. Retailers will follow homes...Some growing communities require a certain amount of commercial and industrial development as a condition of approving more homes, to keep from becoming too much of a bedroom community, which Delhi already is. Homes cost the government more in police, park and other services than their property taxes provide. But Delhi movers and shakers are resigned to first welcoming more houses, whose developers -- they hope -- will provide the infrastructure needed to lure retailers. Future Growth Hot Spots...Southeast Turlock, Riverside Motorsports Park, Delhi, 99-165 project, Turlock Golf & Country Club, Hilmar & Stevinson

Sewers plug up the plans for Delhi...Garth Stapley
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13240225p-13875848c.html
A small water and sewer district with a record of chronic environmental violations appears to stand in the path of this town's hope to become a real city. Incorporation could follow huge shopping centers — with a treasure chest of sales taxes — envisioned in Delhi's recently adopted growth plan. But any new stores, not to mention 5,500 more homes, depend on adequate sewer capacity. Home builders hoping to mine gold from the future growth explosion say they are increasingly irritated with foot dragging by the Delhi County Water District... Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board says Delhi's plant for years has discharged into the earth twice the maximum amount of organic matter allowed by law. 'District has not moved forward'...Bert Van Voris, a supervising engineer with the water quality control board, said the plant also polluted groundwater when nitrates leached from a pile of solids mucked from the plant's storage ponds. And, the plant needs more disposal land for the amount of wastewater it treats... Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who represents Delhi, described sewer board members as "real old school" and "always complaining." "The water board has the ability to lead the incorporation effort," Kelsey said. "But they're just contrary. They don't want to do anything."

Fresno Bee
Revving up air district. Regulators must become more aggressive in struggle for clean air...Editorial
http://www.fresnobee.com/274/story/26640.html
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has presided over some improvements in air quality since its inception in the early 1990s, but most of its achievements have been driven by outside influences, usually lawsuits by environmentalists or legislation from Sacramento...for example, new regulations governing pollution from Valley agriculture. A number of them have been put in place, against strong opposition from the ag community. But it wasn't the air district that pushed for those changes, it was state Sen. Dean Florez, who managed to get a package of legislation out of Sacramento that has done a great deal to reduce pollution from ag sources. Part of the air district's problem is structural...makeup of the district's governing board is dominated by politicians who are largely beholden to special interests, many of whom are more interested in protecting a profitable status quo than they are in cleaner air. There have been efforts to alter the makeup of the board by adding scientists and environmental voices to the panel, as well as permanent seats for representatives of the largest cities in the eight-county district. Those efforts have been fought tooth-and-nail by the county supervisors who dominate the governing board. The district's leaders have noted that they have no control over so-called "mobile sources," emissions from vehicles... That's true. Federal and state agencies are charged with regulating those emissions, and they haven't been go-getters themselves - especially the feds under the Bush administration. But the air district has been noticeably reticent when it comes to agitating for changes that might actually help reduce vehicular pollution. The district has a pulpit - why isn't it being used to bully recalcitrant federal and state officials into action? The clock is ticking for hundreds of thousands of Valley residents... Many people are fleeing, and others are not moving here because of the filthy air. The status quo is killing people. It's time for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to shift to a higher gear. If it can't, perhaps we need to trade it in on a newer, more aggressively air-friendly model.

1-27-07
Merced Sun-Star
Is John Condren really who he claims to be?...Corinne Reilly, Leslie Albrecht contributed to this story
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13237439p-13873173c.html
Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren has billed himself as a skilled corporate executive and entrepreneur who has successfully launched, managed and sold companies across the country and around the world. But a Sun-Star investigation into Condren's professional past has revealed another picture of the businessman who has promised to build a quarter-billion-dollar racetrack complex that could change the face of Merced County. It's marked by bankruptcies, failed businesses and unpaid debts. Some of the claims Condren has made about his professional past, as posted in a profile that appeared on RMP's Web site, are either embellished or false, the Sun-Star has found. The profile was altered to correct some of the inaccuracies on Wednesday, following inquiries from the Sun-Star. Controversy drew the spotlight...Since initial environmental reviews of Condren's proposal were released in November 2005, the project has become perhaps the most controversial in local history. The debate included little discussion of Condren's professional past and Condren has remained guarded about his background and the project's financial backing, twice declining interviews with the Sun-Star for a profile story. Numerous Web biography inaccuracies... Two bankruptcies were filed... Condren maintains his failed businesses and bankruptcies are no reflection on his ability to manage his current undertakings.A statement attributed to RMP's board of directors that Condren sent the Sun-Star this week said RMP's "board and the company's investors and shareholders are extremely pleased with the integrity, honesty, focus, leadership and resolve shown by Mr. Condren over the last six-and-one-half years that he has led the company."

Farmland skyrocketed in value in racetrack plan...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13237445p-13873182c.html
While the debate over the Riverside Motorsports Park grabbed headlines last year, another story quietly unfolded: how a swath of farmland tucked behind a decommissioned Air Force base, a chicken ranch, and a federal prison came to be worth $12 million. The following timeline traces how it happened.
1930s: The Morimoto family, Japanese farmers, settle in Merced County. They acquire the property northeast of the future Castle Air Force Base over the next several decades, according to the cultural resources section of the Riverside Motorsports Park environmental impact report....1999: The Morimotos propose building a 376-acre industrial park called Pacific ComTech on the property adjacent to Castle Air Force Base...Oct. 5, 2001: John Condren registers Riverside Motorsports Park as a limited liability company with the California secretary of state...Oct. 16, 2002: The Airport Land Use Commission votes unanimously that Pacific ComTech Industrial Park is compatible with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan...Late 2002: John Condren pitches his racetrack idea to The Nicholson Co...Dec. 17, 2002: The Board of Supervisors approves Pacific ComTech Industrial Park...Jan. 17, 2003: Two local environmental groups, the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water, file a lawsuit against the county over the approval of the Pacific ComTech Industrial Park...March 18, 2003: The Nicholson Co. creates a partnership called Race Ranch LP ...March 20, 2003: Race Ranch LP buys the 1,300 acres adjacent to Castle from the Morimotos for $5,143,000...March 25, 2003: Race Ranch LP takes out a $4,225,000 mortgage on the property with Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco...April 8, 2003: The Board of Supervisors meets in closed session and approves a settlement agreement with the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water. The settlement reverses approval of Pacific ComTech Park. The property reverts to agricultural zoning and is removed from the Castle Specific Urban Development Plan area....Aug. 12, 2003: Riverside Motorsports Park LLC publicly announces plans to build...Oct. 1, 2003: The Airport Land Use Commission votes unanimously that the Riverside Motorsports Park is not compatible with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan...Nov. 2005: Merced County releases the draft environmental impact report...September 2006: John Condren registers another LLC, called RMP Agricultural Group, with the Secretary of State...
Dec. 12, 2006: The Board of Supervisors votes on the first series of actions required to allow Riverside Motorsports Park to go forward. The environmental impact report is certified, the land is rezoned from agricultural to planned development and added to the Castle Specific Urban Development Plan, and the board overrules the Airport Land Use Commission's finding the RMP is not compatible with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan.
Dec. 18, 2006: Race Ranch LP sells the 1,300 acres near Castle to Riverside Motorsports Park LLC for $12,254,000.
Dec. 18, 2006: Riverside Motorsports Park LLC takes out a $12,500,000 mortgage with Missouri-based First Bank. Condren would not say how much his mortgage payments will be, but he says the profits from 700 acres of almonds on the land and rent paid by farmers leasing the land will cover them.
Dec. 19, 2006: The Board of Supervisors casts final votes to approve the Riverside Motorsports Park by approving the General Plan amendment. RMP has two years to submit a development plan to the county. If it does not meet that deadline, the Board of Supervisors must vote on whether to reverse the zoning and land-use changes approved for RMP, said county spokesman Mark Hendrickson. As the zoning stands now, only a raceway complex can be built on the RMP site. "If they wanted go out there and build a shopping mall, they couldn't do it, it would have to be a multi-venue racetrack," said Hendrickson.
Dec. 21, 2006: Riverside Motorsports Park LLC leases the 1,300 acres to Hull Farms LLC, another company under The Nicholson Company. According to the lease memorandum filed in the county recorder's office, Hull Farms has an option to buy the land that expires in November 2009. Hull Farms and RMP also signed a subordination agreement that says if First Bank forecloses on RMP's mortgage, the lease remains intact, including Hull Farms' option to purchase the land. Both Condren and The Nicholson Company say it's unlikely Hull Farms will exercise its option to buy the 1,300 acres. The option, Condren said, was included in the lease as a "safety valve" in case the Board of Supervisors did not approve the project. Condren said he has no intention of selling the land. Why would I ever put myself in a position to lose the property after we worked so many years?" Condren said. "Why would I sell it when I can build a motorsports park there that's worth way more? Tenacity is my middle name." Condren predicted that the raceway complex will be up and running by the time Hull Farms' option to buy expires. The Nicholson Company could help construct some buildings on the RMP site, said Craig Nicholson, but no formal agreement is in place. Condren also offered The Nicholson Company "membership options" in Riverside Motorsports Park LLC, but The Nicholson Company is not a partner in RMP at this point, Nicholson said.
Jan. 18, 2007: The San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources, and the California Farm Bureau Federation sue the county over the Board of Supervisors' approval of Riverside Motorsports Park. All four groups say the county failed to adequately study RMP's environmental impacts.

1-26-07
Merced Sun-Star
He's all revved up, part 2...Loose Lips
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13232983p-13869661c.html
Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren was apparently "angry and saddened" that someone leaked one of his e-mail messages to Loose Lips last week.
Well, it's happened again.
Here's the message Condren fired off after he found out his e-mail had entered the public domain:
"Gentlemen:
Five minutes ago, I received a telephone call from a reporter at the Merced Sun-Star who stated that their Editor, Mr. Joe Kieta, just handed her a copy of the e-mail I sent out yesterday announcing that RMP had reached a settlement with the Bureau of Prisons and was close to securing a settlement with Foster Farms. She was looking for additional comment.
This e-mail was sent to you -- a very select few -- in confidence to keep you up to date on the RMP project's progress. To that, the legal notice at the bottom of this, and every e-mail sent by RMP, is not placed there solely to take up space on the page. I am sending this e-mail to the 15 of you who were sent the original message. It is now clear that a trust has been broken. I can only assume that other confidential information that I have entrusted within the "leaders of the community" has also been disseminated, including the current campaign to stop the legal action taken against Merced County and RMP by the Farm Bureau.
I am both angry and saddened by this event.
I have notified the Sun-Star that any use, quotation or dissemination of the information within that e-mail will result in legal action by RMP.
John Condren"
Lips would like the "leaders of the community" to know that they are always welcome to send "confidential information" our way.

1-24-07
Merced Sun-star
RMP delay costs all of us...Roger Wood, Atwater...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13226018p-13863438c.html
Now that the Board of Supervisors has completed its actions to approve Riverside Motorsports Park, the big question for the future is, what will the opponents do next? The project created the largest environmental impact report in the county's history (even bigger than the UC Merced report). The opponents were given substantial time to speak to the board about their concerns. I along with many others believe that the opponents (at least some of them) will now try to stop the RMP through some sort of legal action. What will be the result of the possible litigation? The first thing...project will be delayed. The second thing...RMP will be forced to spend a substantial amount of money to defend itself. What is the effect of the possible litigation on the great majority of citizens of Merced County who support RMP? Number one is that we will not get to enjoy the benefits of RMP... A second... we may not get as good a project as has been planned by RMP. Perhaps RMP will find a site somewhere else... I encourage the opponents to stop their opposition to the RMP and participate in the annual reviews that have been set up as part of the county's permit process. These annual reviews are intended to correct problems as they develop. We need to remember that it is in RMP's best interests to remedy any problems that develop. They do have a business to run. Recurring problems are not conducive to a successful business.

1-19-07
Badlandsjournal.com
(from a Merced Sun-Star article that does not seem to be posted on its website now)
After the Merced County Farm Bureau announced plans to sue the county over its approval of the $230 million, 1,200-acre racetrack proposal, RMP CEO John Condren put out a call to arms.
In an e-mail message sent Wednesday afternoon to business heavies Steve Newvine, Julius Pekar, Doug Fluetsch, Robert Rodarte, Bob Carpenter and Bob Rucker, Condren wrote the following. We quote without editing:
“Good day to all -I am pleased to report that RMP has reached a settlement with the US Bureau of Prisons and is close to having a settlement with Foster Farms. Keep your fingers crossed on that one. To date, the Merced County Farm Bureau is the only legal challenge we face. Regarding the Merced County Farm Bureau, they have filed a Notice of Action against Merced County (referencing the RMP EIR) that gives them 10 days to file their actual lawsuit.
Countering this move, our very own Scott Reisdorfer has initiated a campaign to pressure the Farm Bureau to withdraw their lawsuit. Scott has made contact, and continues to make contact, with various farming and ag members and ag-based organizations that are proponents of RMP. All have agreed to inundate the Farm Bureau’s offices with phone calls, fax and e-mails demanding that the Farm Bureau back-down.
If you can help with this campaign, please do so! Thanx - John Condren” --

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"This Magic Moment": Open Letter #1 to UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang

Submitted: Jan 23, 2007

Dear Dr. Kang,

Welcome to Merced, once a Valley town and gateway to Yosemite, now a "crossroads" in the middle of the greatest real estate speculation crash in its history, thanks to the arrival of UC Merced.

What a "magic moment," as Great Valley Center (GVC) President, Carol Whitesides tells it. But you would already know that because UC Merced has absorbed the Center in yet another of the public/private, win-win partnerships for which our Valley is famous.

One always got the impression from the First Chancellor that she fervently believed that Valley history began when she got here, but you have arrived in Merced as a "clean slate." UC has already gutted what brief institutional memory might have adhered to UC Merced, reinforcing its institutional strategy of pleading ignorance to history.

Yet, for a campus so young, Dr. Kang, you have inherited quite a colorful history. Allow us to list a few of its grosser features:

· UC was donated land with the richest fields of vernal pools and their associated endangered species in California;

· UC was told there was adequate water beneath this land; there wasn’t;

· UC, Gov. Gray Davis, Rep. Gary Condit, state Sen. Dick Monteith, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, regents from the Valley and prominent Valley interests conspired with state and federal resource agencies to corrupt environmental laws and regulations in order to build the campus on this land;

· In 2000, the state non-partisan legislative analyst office told the Legislature UC Merced was an unnecessary campus;

· UC Merced propagandists, including the first chancellor, have repeatedly and deceitfully described the campus as the only UC campus in the Central Valley, forgetting the existence of UC Davis;

· UC Merced, barred from agricultural research by the powerful, established UC Davis, must ignore and destroy the agriculture around it, denying that the only purpose for a UC campus in the Central Valley is agriculture; if UC Merced cannot be an agriculture school, Merced agriculture must disappear;

· In view of UC Davis medical school, UC Merced’s claims to establish one are the mere, empty flak of a boondoggle land deal pretending to be a university;

· However, if UC Merced, anchor tenant for eastern San Joaquin Valley growth from Folsom to Porterville, were to establish a medical research facility, as growth-induced Valley air pollution attains the distinction of being the worst in the nation UC would study the ravages of respiratory illness on children and the elderly while continuing to deny any complicity with the environmental conditions creating growing respiratory illness;

· UC sold Kearney Park in Fresno, donated to establish another agricultural campus;

· UC Santa Cruz is the university’s legitimate annex to Silicon Valley;

· UC Merced’s future is tied to its memorandum of understanding with UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory;

· UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been testing depleted uranium bombs for years and is now seeking to establish a level-4 biowarfare laboratory at Site 300 near Tracy; in other words, UC has already contaminated some Valley groundwater with depleted uranium and now wishes to expand its bomb testing and experiment with the most toxic substances known to man, here in the most productive agricultural valley in the world;

· UC Merced has been sued on its long-range development plan, on sewer and water, on its annexation plan, and on its new town;

· Every other environmental lawsuit brought in Merced County is attributable to the chaotic growth induced by UC Merced;

· UC Merced stimulated a speculative bubble in Merced that drove its real estate values to be among the least affordable in the nation, followed by the present slump in which it has the highest foreclosure rate in the state;

· UC Merced wiped out the ability of Merced County to do any further local planning;

· The corruption of local land-use authority is complete;

· UC Merced stated it would mitigate for its growth by purchasing easements on 68,000 acres of neighboring ranchland; it bought easements for 25,000 acres;

· Those easements are inadequate because they are not comparable land and/or fail to provide monitoring standards required by the public agencies who paid for them; i.e. UC Merced defrauded the taxpayers of California for more than $16 million;

· UC, on behalf of UC Merced, is currently trying to intervene in a lawsuit over critical habitat in order to get exempted from the designation for its project;

· UC has continually conspired in the state Legislature and Congress to weaken state and federal laws protecting the environment, notably the California Environmental Quality Act and the federal Endangered Species Act, simply to build the land-deal boondoggle known as UC Merced;

· UC wrote an amicus curiae brief to the state Supreme Court supporting CSU Monterey Bay’s case that state agencies do not have to pay for mitigation of off-site impacts; UC attorney Lawrence Holtz wrote that if the court did not rule in favor of CSU-MB, UC Merced would have to pay $200 million in off-site mitigation costs, which it had promised Merced and tried in that suit to evade;

· Environmentalists and an honest Republican, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, defeated Pombo in November;

· The House Resources Committee Pombo chaired has now had its original title restored, House Committee on Natural Resources; and Cardoza is no longer a member of that committee;

· Whitesides’ “magic moment” for building more roads for more growth, degrading more natural resources and agriculture, worsening air quality, water quality and supply, is part of a “regional planning” scheme originating with UC Merced;

· UC Merced is the best proof there is in the Valley that regional planning, driven by state government entirely controlled by finance, insurance and real estate interests, is nothing but a developer confidence game that started with the UC regents;

· There was no legitimate reason for UC Merced, it has created nothing but havoc in the San Joaquin Valley and has elevated possibly the worst collection of “leaders” the Valley has ever had;

· This Valley has sunk from politicians like Assembly Speaker Ralph Brown 60 years ago and Assemblyman John Williamson 40 years ago to the present gang of pretentious thugs in federal, state and municipal government that has, with “one voice,” repeatedly corrupted the Brown Act, the California Public Records Act and the Williamson Act, all for the benefit of UC Merced and its induced slurb.

This is the truth about the “magic moment” you’ve inherited, Dr. Kang. You are floating in a sea of propaganda concocted by liars and parroted by ignoramuses for the benefit of a handful of special interests in a position to profit from proximity to a UC campus. You are chancellor of a fraud on the Public Trust. The UC Merced project is totally unworthy of the once greatest public university in America.

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Move your environment!

Submitted: Jan 08, 2007

Merced County and our elected supervisors care deeply about the lack of entertainment and job opportunities in their jurisdiction. For this reason they have paved the way for a genuine NASCAR-level racetrack and the wise leaders of the City of Merced will undoubtedly approve a WalMart distribution center in the coming year.

We will have entertainment and jobs galore right here in Merced.

The only problem will be measurably worse air quality caused by:

· all the people also thirsting for entertainment who will come from out of town to Riverside Motorsparts Pork for races and concerts;
· and thousands more trucks arriving and departing from the WalMart distribution center 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But, San Joaquin Valley leaders are nothing if not competitive. They thirst for glory. Perhaps, after the two projects are built, we will rest securely in the top slot for the most polluted air basin in the nation, finally defeating our only rival, Los Angeles. Our leaders may also hope to gain the prize for being the noisiest rural county in California. Their ambitions are endless.

Not all Merced County residents appreciate the entertainment, the WalMart jobs or increased degradation of the air quality. Some of these people will move their environment.

Barring an extraterrestrial method, they will move their environment by selling their homes and land, leaving their old, noisy, polluted, traffic-jammed environment, for a new, better environment.

They’re telling their realtors, “We ain’t no fairy shrimp! We can move and we will move.”

The realtors reply, “Whatever.” Then they explain that today’s Merced real estate market is a Buyers’ Market and they are sellers, therefore certain enhancements are considered wise by motivated sellers.

One set of movers offered a dairy herd to sweeten the deal. Their realtor explained that today’s buyers aren’t interested in dairy herds. They want, what in the trade has come to know known as “pasture ornaments” and lot splits.

“Your burros, your llamas, your emus, your cutting horses, and your 5-acre parcels,” the realtors explain. “No dairy herds. Some acreage in your merlot grapes is also an incentivizer. And your olive trees are getting to be a popular for the Mediterranean-type villa look to your double-wide.”

Motivated environmental movers stop to consider the incentivizers and frequently remark they wouldn’t mind a place like that either, but ask how they’d make a living on it. Realtors urge them not to dwell on the higher regions of the real estate market, where only trained professionals should go.

So, the next day the farmer is out buying pasture ornaments from Bobo’s Abatoir, Pet Cemetery and Used Pasture Ornaments LLC, located on primo sweet potato land until Bobo sold an easement for a sewer line south of war-torn Livingston.

“I got a herd of llamas, fresh off a corner lot an oil company bought last week,” Bobo said. “Real stylish, llamas.”

The farmer looked at the llamas, the llamas looked at the farmer.

“What the Hell?” the farmer said. “How much for the lot?”

“Well, these are genuine corner-lot used llamas, premium grade pasture ornaments.”

The farmer took Bobo’s price because who knew what a llama was worth, anyway? His whole dairy herd? But things had to look just right because it was a Buyers’ Market and the farmer was going to move his environment.

Bobo felt so sorry for the sucker he threw in a new flock of Bantam chickens.

“Commuter wife hasn’t been born yet who could resist your Banties,” he said.

The farmer went to town, leased himself a supervisor and rented a county planner and got his parcel splits.

He did everything the realtor told him to do and still the realtor kept trying to drive his price down.

“You know there’s going to be a lot of traffic on this road and the air quality is going down,” the realtor said. “We need incentives to make this sale.”

“I know. That’s why I’m selling. But the buyers don’t know that. You haven’t told them, have you?”

The realtor made a cold, professional realtor face and said nothing.

“Sorry,” the farmer said. “It’s just that I have some payments to make.”

“Knock off another $25,000 and I think I have a buyer.”

But the realtor didn’t have a buyer and next month asked for another sizeable reduction in price.
“You have to be realistic,” the realtor said. “If you’re not going to get rid of the double-wide and build one of your up-scale home products there’s not much more I can do. In today’s Buyers’ Market you need at least 10,000 square feet in either a Los Altos Chat-oh, a General Vallejo hacienda, a Napa Coppola or a McTaj Mahal.”

Time went by. One evening at the end of another month in the Buyers’ Market, he drove back to the farm. He saw the kids petting the llamas, the farmer’s wife was feeding the Banties, the Merlot vineyard was about to produce its first crop and the row of olive trees was rooting nicely. And the cow stink was gone. In fact, the milking barn was gone. He heard birds because there was no cow sounds. I t was incredible to him because he’d lived his entire life on dairies.

“So, this is the real farming life. It ain’t half bad,” the farmer thought.

We didn’t see the farmer much after he said he was going to move his environment. Eventually, they moved. Most of us, like the workers he fired when he sold, couldn’t get out. We were tied to the county in one way or another as tight as a fairy shrimp to a vernal pool. Moving our environment wasn’t an option. We wished the farmer well but told him not to let the door hit him on the way out.

Bobo, the used pasture ornament dealer, got the llamas back, “spoiled rotten,” he said. But then he scored a kit fox and advertised by word-of-mouth a new line of “rare pasture ornaments,” and made some big money.

We heard he moved to the coast.

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A reliable man

Submitted: Dec 31, 2006

A day after triumphantly ramming the Riverside Motorsparts Pork project through the Merced County Board of Supervisors, the Merced public was amused -- what else could it be? -- to learn that Board Chairman Mike Nelson had been appointed chair of something called the San Joaquin Valleywide Air Pollution Study Group. He already serves on the governing board of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District. As near as we can figure, this study group is associated with either the San Joaquin Valley Partnership or the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint, and with a group of countywide transportation agencies -- in other words, with one or more of the shadowy layers of regional quasi-governmental bodies lying over the Valley like stacked layers on a GIS map of proliferating decision makers, each farther than the last from public accountability.

Nelson can be relied upon to obstruct every state and federal air pollution regulation standing in the way of the slurbification of the San Joaquin Valley. As he said of the racetrack, it will be his political "legacy."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has designated the Valley as one of only two severe non-attainment air basins in the nation, the other being Los Angeles. If the Valley doesn't meet standards by 2013, it could lose millions in federal highway funds and face even stiffer regulation. California Air Resources Board and the local air control district estimate that this air basin will fall short of 2013 targets by 50 to 80 percent. Although agriculture has made real improvements on stationary sources of emission, mobile sources account for by far the largest amount of air pollution in the Valley.

Valley environmental and civic groups filed suit last week against the EPA, alleging that the agency based its most recent decision about Valley air quality on cooked data. (It is a strong affirmation of human intelligence that petitioners in this suit believe the Bush EPA even knows what data are, at this point in the Great Crusader's reign.)

The Valley has one irreducible problem: it cannot grow without adding more air pollution unless it decides to go to transport by bicycle, ox cart and one-horse shay. The Valley economic response to this inconvenience has been to play host to a huge speculative housing boom, now busting about our ears, its credit fallout still to be determined. The Valley political response has been a concerted attack by its political classes on any and all environmental law, regulation and state and federal agencies. This attack was epitomized by the late, unlamented Pomboza, the duo of congressmen from the north San Joaquin Valley who tried, in return for sizeable contributions from a handful of developers, to gut the Endangered Species Act. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, the hindquarters of the late Pomboza, had tried twice before to gut provisions in the ESA that established critical habitat areas for endangered species, with focused attention on the 15 endangered species that live in or around vernal pools.

The Valley politicians, slavishly quoted by the Valley media, spare no opportunity to blast people trying to protect vernal pools and their species. To which, one will reply that the lines between protecting endangered species and protecting public health and safety are drawing too close together for comfort. Every acre containing vernal pools that is kept in grazing is an acre that is not producing air pollution.

Other Valley counties, perhaps somewhat chastened by childhood asthma rates three and four times the national average, have turned lately to the corrupt cowboys of Merced to lead them on these proliferating groups, boards, partnerships and blueprints emanating from a state legislature as firmly in the grip of the finance, insurance and real estate sector (FIRE) as a century ago it was in the grip of the railroads.

Right now, it looks like FIRE, Inc. is promoting Nelson to trail boss for his fine work of ramrodding the Riverside Motorsparts Pork project through by ambushing the public process at every turn in the trail.

One can hear the comments in the financial, insurance and real estate boardrooms: "Mike Nelson, a reliable man."

How else is the public expected to understand this appointment?

Bill Hatch
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Merced County...Press Release...12-20-06
http://www.co.merced.ca.us/newsletter/documents/NewsRelease122006-NelsonAirDistrict.pdf

SUPERVISOR NELSON APPOINTED CHAIR OF AIR STUDY GROUP
Valleywide Group to Study Air Quality Issues Facing the Region

MERCED – Merced County Supervisor Mike Nelson has been appointed to Chair the San Joaquin Valleywide Air Pollution Study Group. Supervisor Nelson already serves on the Governing Board of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District.
Supervisor Nelson commented, “I’m honored to Chair this important study group, which affects all the residents of the San Joaquin Valley. I’m particularly pleased that I’ll be able to continue to expand and push for the priorities of Merced County, as part of the overall plan for the San Joaquin Valley. I look forward to working with the members of the study group.”
The Valleywide Air Pollution Study Agency is a cooperative research effort on behalf of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare counties. It was formed in 1986 to develop and direct air pollution studies on ozone and other air pollutants affecting the San Joaquin Valley and adjacent air basins.
For more information regarding Merced County, please visit our website at www.co.merced.ca.us

12-29-06
Merced Sun-Star
Fresno Bee
EPA sued for Valley air ruling.
..Bee staff and wire services
http://www.fresnobee.com/263/v-printerfriendly/story/21345.html
The environmental law group Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Latino Issues Forum, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and three chapters of the Sierra Club. Plaintiffs are asking the court to review the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that the Valley's air was no longer polluted by PM-10 — tiny pollution particles just 10 microns wide — because it hadn't violated the PM-10 standard in three years...they also planned to file a separate petition today with the EPA asking the federal agency to reconsider its own finding. Environmental groups previously had accused the EPA of ignoring data from certain air pollution monitors in making its decision because the monitors were not officially part of the federally sanctioned network. The new accusation involves three other monitors, which the EPA does recognize. The Earthjustice petition to the EPA said high levels of small particles were detected at the three monitors on Sept.22, about a month before the agency ruled that the Valley had met the standard for the prior three years. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Planning Director Scott Nester defended the EPA's action... Hall complained that even if the environmental groups prevail in court, the EPA's October finding will put an indefinite hold on further controls. "Our fate is in the hands of the Bush EPA,"...The agency's action, he said, "stops the rulemaking...

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