Air pollution

Let them play Monopoly behind gates we lock

Submitted: Jul 30, 2006

In 1950, it has been repeated ad nausea; Los Angeles County produced more agricultural commodities than any county in the state. By the mid-1970s, it began to lead the nation as the most polluted air basin, despite its sea breezes. Today, in this grim "metric," it appears to have fallen behind both the San Joaquin Valley and Riverside/San Bernardino counties.

The San Joaquin Valley is the richest farmland in the western US. Today, Los Angeles is an asphalt jungle and its eastern neighboring counties are developing along the same dismal pattern.

Humanity has yet to learn how to reclaim asphalt jungles for agriculture, should the need or desire occur.

It is not too late to stop the LA-ification of the San Joaquin Valley. Abundant farmland still exists. Given its inversion layer, more development can only turn this valley of the best farmland in the West into a respiratory hell.

Regional and national food security, health and safety for San Joaquin Valley inhabitants and a responsible attitude toward global warming and the waning of the Sierra snow pack argue forcefully against more population growth.

All that is stopping a sane approach to Valley agricultural and natural resources and health and welfare of its inhabitants is the entire political economic system – local, state and federal – dominated by real estate development and the financial, land-owning, construction, and realty interests that swarm around it, and the political passivity of the residents. To turn the San Joaquin Valley into a continuous metropolitan region from Sacramento to Bakersfield is no more nor less than business as usual: destructive enrichment of the few at the expense of many.

It was recently argued in a Merced County staff report on a residential development that criticism of how the development would deal with a Williamson Act (farmland preservation) matter was, in fact, an attempt to stop the project and the population growth and increase in autos the project would create. This, the staff report implied, was an illegitimate reason for arguing the Williamson Act matter.

The same is constantly said about criticisms and lawsuits for violations of local, state and federal environmental law and regulation. "It doesn't matter because the critics just want to stop growth."

This sort of logic reminds me of an old movie, "Never on Sunday," in which an Athenian prostitute who attended every performance of ancient tragedies and was greatly moved by their sorrow and destruction, consoled herself with the belief that in the end "they all went to the seashore."

Presumably, county officials that produce this bilge plan to retire to Pismo Beach to breath clean sea air after their careers of disservice to the San Joaquin Valley public.

The growth now occurring in the San Joaquin Valley is a tragedy, of which one element is always the willful denial of truths like endemic respiratory illness and global warming, which can only worsen with more Valley growth.

The loss of the culture of farming is both sad and frightening.

“The best product of the American farm is the careful farmer,” Wendell Berry once wrote. There are some left. There are also some San Joaquin Kit Fox left, but the trend toward extinction is clear in both species.

American culture and economy -- this gargantuan brat -- has no place for the modest, patient, skillful and inventive farmers who built our valley. Those people wisely mistrusted booms and all the other deals too good to be true, and they did not indefinitely abide whores in government. They believed in hard work and earnest prayer.

In our valley today, the political theory is that the public is the servant of the public servant, who is the servant of destructive enrichment, a form of self-indulgence practiced by a few people and corporations with great wealth, who lack the imagination to do anything but destructively pursue greater wealth.

The poor dears. The appropriate places for them are gated reservations locked from the outside instead of the inside. Let them play Monopoly with their money! Meanwhile, permit the San Joaquin Valley public time and space to deal with the consequences of their binges in real estate.

Bill Hatch

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Denial

Submitted: Jul 27, 2006

Only a fool or worse ignores moral values - in the end, they always take revenge. Uri Avnery, Is Beirut Burning? Counterpunch.com, July 26, 2006
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First, a word of appreciation for Wallace Mainplace Stadium Cinemas in Merced for showing Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" last week. Thanks, Mainplace, for showing the ecological awareness worthy of the city that boasts it is the "Gateway to Yosemite," where so much of the world conservation movement began.

It is unfortunate that the arrival of a world-class university in Merced has stimulated a huge speculative real estate boom, which has obliterated any sense of the history and tradition of conservation inherited from the nearness of Yosemite and the larger world-class reputation of John Muir.

It is unfortunate that local land-use authorities, state and federal legislators and a number of state and federal regulatory agencies are owned by a small group of large developers.

Consider the City of Merced, for example, its realtor dominated council pushing for all it's worth for a 1.2-million square-foot distribution center adjoining the Mission Interchange to Highway 99, where the UC Boondoggle Merced Campus Parkway will begin. Nine hundred to 2,000 truck trips a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week will produce an absurd amount of traffic, air pollution and greenhouse gasses -- just the ticket for "The Gateway to Yosemite"!

Consider the City of Los Banos, which has doubled in population in the last decade.

Consider the City of Livingston, which recently -- and according to the County Counsel, probably illegally -- approved a mile-long sewer trunk line beyond its city limits to its wastewater treatment plant, through land owned by Mike Gallo and some other farmers, to open enough development to at least double its size, before the sewer line is extended to Stevinson, where Gallo and Stevinson Ranch plan a new town that will dwarf the existing town of Stevinson.

Consider the Merced County Association of Governments, which plans new, growth-inducing highways, roads and streets without apparently any land-use authority to do so.

Consider UC Boondoggle Merced, its own land-use authority, planning a new town south of the campus.

Consider Merced County itself. Without updating its General Plan to provide public input before it approved the UC project, and almost every subdivision induced by it since. The most air-polluting process -- not to mention information-pollution process -- the county is now considering is a NASCAR level racetrack, with parking for 15,000 fans plus the trucks bringing the race cars, in our Valley air basin, which the federal government calls in a state of severe non-attainment of acceptable air quality, and officials occasionally confess that they cannot imagine how it will come into compliance by next deadline, the one after, or by any deadline.

Consider the subdivisions the county approves on the west side that will receive their water from the federal government, which does not always deliver the full allotment, depending on supply. Consider at least one water district over there that almost seems to be laundering federal water through a complex series of intervening water districts to make it as difficult as possible to see that it is actually federal water, subject to uneven supply.

Consider that prominent occupant of the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. It is hard to find in the whole United States Congress a member more adamantly opposed to the kind of law and policy that would begin to address the problem of global warming than Shrimp Slayer, except his beloved chairman, Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. Together, they are called the Pomboza, whose habitat is the pockets of a few developers, and they work ceaselessly behind the scenes to create a regulatory climate that will allow developers to turn the area from Sacramento to Fresno into another Los Angeles -- without sea breezes, a movie industry, or huge defense contractors. The Pomboza has no vision for its collective district but more developer contributions to feed its irresponsible political assault on the Public Trust.

For having allowed its elected officials to do these things, Merced richly deserves the slurb it is rapidly becoming. The population seems to be unequally divided between a few bullies and a great many cowardly whiners who were too scared to even be able to think when UC Boondoggle Merced came to town to enrich a few large landowners and a larger group of outside investors. When the chips were down, nobody could see beyond their own greed -- witness the shame of the DA, the sheriff, and the County CAO. No doubt other scandals will follow.

Consider the group of people, normally liberal, many of them now fighting the racetrack and WalMart, who could not see beyond their yearning for proximity to a UC campus and their terror of even being suspected of doubting its complete rightness.

What the public needed and had a right to expect from the university were reflection, perspective and insight into the environmental dangers at hand. Instead it gets a steady dose of idiotic flak, for example the recent statement that the reason so many students flunked out in the first year of UC Boondoggle Merced was because they were first-generation college students; for another example, the lie endlessly repeated that UC Boondoggle Merced is the only "research university in the Central Valley."

No university system in the modern world has a prouder, longer tradition of educating first-generation college students than UC, UC Davis is a world-class research university located in the middle of the Central Valley, and we resent the perpetual UC Boondoggle Merced disinformation campaign published as news in our local paper. Let UC return to its weekly paid supplements, clearly marked as advertising, just like a WalMart supplement. News is something else. We needed and had a right to expect from our public research university reflection, perspective and insight, just as we needed and had a right to expect honesty from our newspaper. We got and still get propaganda from both.

UC Boondoggle Merced's approach to the air quality crisis, directly the result of rapid growth in the Valley to which UC has contributed in our area, is to propose a medical school with an emphasis on respiratory diseases. In a word, UC Boondoggle Merced will capitalize on our air quality crisis and the huge research population it is producing. It will capitalize on the impacts of global warming on the Sierra through its Sierra Nevada Institute, measuring with powerful, emerging technologies just how rapidly the environment deteriorates. Are these the public services UC presents them to be or are they merely more exploitation?

Genius at the command of greed -- oh Joy! The worse the climate becomes, the more refined UC Boondoggle Merced's measurements will become, always assuming it will not become just an annex for research in weapons of mass destruction Livermore Valley citizens force out of UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The land-use authorities are blinded by greed. The results are on the ground all around, and this is just the beginning. Development is here and it has its teeth in the throat of the authorities. Farming and its entire support system in the Valley are severely – perhaps fatally – threatened by development. The Valley is the richest farmland in the American West. For it to be paved over, its ecology, air and water destroyed by development, finishes off the possibility of its agriculture evolving out of the admittedly ridiculous state of the moment, caused however by very real economic pressures, into something more wholesome, better balanced, and more productive of crops and of livelihoods in farming. The vital potential this land and the dwindling but still expert farmers on it have to improve and adjust to better ways has already been severely injured. Neither California nor the nation can afford to let this Valley become the next Los Angeles.

The only way to change this course is to care and to participate.

This evening the Merced City Council Chambers was filled with people protesting every aspect of the proposed WalMart distribution center at a meeting called by the city as a scoping session before work begins on the draft environmental impact report. One speaker called for a moratorium on planning for the project until the county General Plan update is finished. Although the project is technically in the city, and therefore subject to the city's rather than the county's General Plan, the city General Plan is also being updated. The consultants and the city had advised the audience that they would not consider the problem of economic blight because the distribution center would not have any competition in the area. This drew pointed criticism from a number of neighbors of the proposed project who, based on the experience of neighbors of the Porterville WalMart distribution center, said their property values would plummet. One speaker from a subdivision near the proposed project said realtor were already discouraging homebuyers from investing in property near the distribution center.

A man with asthma with a grandchild with asthma, who works at a school where asthmatic kids cannot play outside on bad air days, said it best: we should be ashamed of ourselves, we should be thinking of our kids, instead we’re thinking of the dollar.

Developers and their bought-and-sold politicians have no right to pollute our air and water, they said.

Once you destroy this environment, you will not be able to clean it up even if you wanted to. It will become a big monument to capitalist greed, they said.

How many more truck accidents in the tule fog will be caused by the addition of 900-2,000 more trucks per day and night than we already have in winter, they asked.

Consultants preparing the environmental documents should not trust any data WalMart gives them, they said.

Bill Hatch
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Published on Monday, July 24, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times

Global Warming-- Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Scientists agree: The Earth is warming, and human activities are the principal cause.

by Naomi Oreskes

An Op-Ed article in the Wall Street Journal a month ago claimed that a published study affirming the existence of a scientific consensus on the reality of global warming had been refuted. This charge was repeated again last week, in a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

I am the author of that study, which appeared two years ago in the journal Science, and I'm here to tell you that the consensus stands. The argument put forward in the Wall Street Journal was based on an Internet posting; it has not appeared in a peer-reviewed journal — the normal way to challenge an academic finding. (The Wall Street Journal didn't even get my name right!)

My study demonstrated that there is no significant disagreement within the scientific community that the Earth is warming and that human activities are the principal cause.

Papers that continue to rehash arguments that have already been addressed and questions that have already been answered will, of course, be rejected by scientific journals, and this explains my findings. Not a single paper in a large sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the National Academy of Sciences, that "most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

Since the 1950s, scientists have understood that greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels could have serious effects on Earth's climate. When the 1980s proved to be the hottest decade on record, and as predictions of climate models started to come true, scientists increasingly saw global warming as cause for concern.

In 1988, the World Meteorological Assn. and the United Nations Environment Program joined forces to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action. The panel has issued three assessments (1990, 1995, 2001), representing the combined expertise of 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, and a fourth report is due out shortly. Its conclusions — global warming is occurring, humans have a major role in it — have been ratified by scientists around the world in published scientific papers, in statements issued by professional scientific societies, and in reports of the National Academy of Sciences, the
British Royal Society and many other national and royal academies of science worldwide.

Even the Bush administration accepts the fundamental findings. As President Bush's science advisor, John Marburger III, said last year in a speech: "The climate is changing; the Earth is warming."

To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including MIT professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the scientific community. To a historian of science like me, this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new ideas and evidence. This is especially true when the new evidence strikes at their core beliefs and values.

Earth scientists long believed that humans were insignificant in comparison with the vastness of geological time and the power of geophysical forces. For this reason, many were reluctant to accept that humans had become a force of nature, and it took decades for the present understanding to be achieved. Those few who refuse to accept it are not ignorant, but they are stubborn. They are not unintelligent, but they are stuck on details that cloud the larger issue. Scientific communities include tortoises and hares, mavericks and mules.

A historical example will help to make the point. In the 1920s, the distinguished
Cambridge geophysicist Harold Jeffreys rejected the idea of continental drift on the grounds of physical impossibility. In the 1950s, geologists and geophysicists began to accumulate overwhelming evidence of the reality of continental motion, even though the physics of it was poorly understood. By the late 1960s, the theory of plate tectonics was on the road to near-universal acceptance.

Yet Jeffreys, by then Sir Harold, stubbornly refused to accept the new evidence, repeating his old arguments about the impossibility of the thing. He was a great man, but he had become a scientific mule. For a while, journals continued to publish Jeffreys' arguments, but after a while he had nothing new to say. He died denying plate tectonics. The scientific debate was over.

So it is with climate change today. As American geologist Harry Hess said in the 1960s about plate tectonics, one can quibble about the details, but the overall picture is clear.

Yet some climate-change deniers insist that the observed changes might be natural, perhaps caused by variations in solar irradiance or other forces we don't yet understand. Perhaps there are other explanations for the receding glaciers. But "perhaps" is not evidence.

The greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton, warned against this tendency more than three centuries ago. Writing in "Principia Mathematica" in 1687, he noted that once scientists had successfully drawn conclusions by "general induction from phenomena," then those conclusions had to be held as "accurately or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined…. "

Climate-change deniers can imagine all the hypotheses they like, but it will not change the facts nor "the general induction from the phenomena."

None of this is to say that there are no uncertainties left — there are always
uncertainties in any live science. Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not "whether" but "how much" and "how soon." And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.

Naomi Oreskes is a history of science professor at UC San Diego.

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The desperation of MCAG

Submitted: Jul 25, 2006

Last week the Merced County Association of Governments decided to put Measure A, the transportation sales tax defeated in June, back on the ballot in November, despite a poll that indicated it might not do any better then than it did either in June or in 2002. The MCAG, composed of all five supervisors and one elected official for each of the six incorporated cities in the county, in their judgment overrode the poll results, declaring that the November election will draw more voters than the primary did. The Merced Sun-Star opined without attribution that:

Only 24 percent of registered voters in the county -- about 22,500 people -- showed up to the polls, partly because of lackluster statewide issues and little competition among county races.

A much more attractive November ballot that includes billion-dollar infrastructure bonds and a governor's race is sure to draw more voters.

Evidently this is the received political wisdom on the upcoming General Election.

Might one suggest an alternative analysis?

Billion-dollar infrastructure bonds might get a few Mercedians out to vote against them, which does not on the surface, seem to favor a local half-cent sales tax increase.

The governor's race, featuring the Hun against the Developer's Democrat, Angelo's Boy in the Capitol, is shaping up to be a real ho-hummer of a race.

Locally, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is running unopposed. Kathleen Galgiani, chief of staff of retiring state Assemblywoman, Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, appears to have wired her succession to her boss's seat several years ago. The state Senate race, between incumbent Jeff Denham, Knucklehead-Salinas, and Wiley Nickel, Water Plutocrat-Merced, seems to turn on the fascinating political question of who can accurately define an exchange contract.

One can see long lines in front of polling places, stretching into the frosty night this November. The campaigns are so intense we cannot even see paid voter registrars chasing old ladies to their cars, begging for their signatures, whether they are registered to vote or not. Perhaps they are moving too fast for the human eye.

What could be called strength of leadership, if only by scribes paid to write it, from a charitable point of view could be called stubbornness. In fact, it is suspected resubmitting this measure to the voters in November is an act of sheer political desperation, and perhaps an unintended referendum on how much voters like leaders in the pockets of developers, UC, WalMart and the Riverside Motorsports Park -- the only real beneficiaries of this measure.

MCAG has a huge reputation problem on its hands, stemming from our newly acquired exalted political position after having won the Valley-wide sweepstakes for the San Joaquin Valley UC campus.

In the squalid fashion of UC flak, top bobcatflakster Larry Salinas told the Merced City Council last week that UC Merced was the only UC campus in the Central Valley. And here we thought there was a highway, I-80, that passed along the border between the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, not far from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, through a college town called Davis, said to have been the site of a UC campus for nearly a century.

MCAG has been designated by the Hun administration in Sacramento to lead an eight-county San Joaquin Valley program, including eight councils of government working with Modesto-based Great Valley Center, to create a blueprint for growth to override the niceties of public process and state and federal environmental laws and regulations. These transportation COGS and CAGS are political institutions of nebulous land-use authority, which have banded together as the public in their counties have grown politically restive and are more actively resisting at the city and county government level the developer-driven slurbocracy the most immediate consequences of which are rapidly deteriorating air quality as well as other impediments to a decent quality of life.

Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which includes among other jurisdictions, Yolo County, where some say there is another UC campus, is the model for all this fine regional planning to avoid the niceties of law and regulation. Sacramento and nearby Placer counties have vied with Bakersfield for years for the worst air quality north of Los Angeles, and now they are winning the prize. Following these institutions will help you, your children or your parents' chances of being a candidates for a UC Merced study in respiratory disease once it gets that new medical school started.

If the Merced Board of Supervisors and city governments cannot con thier own citizens into voting a half-cent raise in sales tax to create a matching fund to attract Federal Highway Administration funds to build roads, how can they lead the other COGs and CAGs into a dimming, asthmatic future of slurb. If they cannot even con their own voters into making an abundant contribution to local greenhouse gases that will affect the Sierra snow pack, how can they lead other CAGs and COGs in the pockets of CalDevelopment, Inc., our real rulers, into this absurdly unhealthy future?

Oh, well, there are always the county’s new electronic voting machines, if all else fails.

Perhaps, Merced voters can send a message to the Federal Highway Administration that they do not want millions spent on widening Highway 99 so that WalMart can more easily get its 900 diesel trucks a day in and out of its proposed distribution center at the Mission Interchange. Perhaps, Merced voters can inform the FHWA that they are not interested in funding that interchange to provide one blue-and-yellow brick road to UC Merced. Perhaps, the Merced voters can explain to the FHWA that they are also disinterested in funding another blue-and-yellow brick road from Atwater to UC Merced, one which passes by property acquired in 2004 from an inmate of Sandy Mush County Jail by the sheriff who was incarcerating him, the DA who was prosecuting him, their good friend, the president of Ranchwood Homes, and several other prominent local investors.

All new roads and widened highways in Merced mean is more air pollution and more growth. Obviously, for example, a widened Highway 99 would make it more convenient for millions of stock-car racing fans to come to the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park in Atwater, and they would bring their ozone with them and leave it here.

Perhaps, people in Merced are smart enough to understand this and have begun to get irritated that their leaders are so willing to sell them out to any developer with another air-polluting, traffic-increasing, country-destroying project, and are growing more irritated by the day by their leaders ongoing insult to the voters' intelligence.

Yes, we do realize that something like 30 percent of our air pollution is blown over the hill to us from the Bay Area. But, it does not outrage us that we cannot become Fremont. We do have one of the more important agricultural economies in the world. Perhaps we need to work on that a little more than working on becoming the next great slurbocracy in California. And if we find that our elected officials want Growth Above All, maybe we need new elected officials, because this gang is not working for the best interests of its own public.

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

June 5, 2006

URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT

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

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

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

Sincerely, Central Valley Safe Environment Network

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

MAKE Residential and Commercial Development Pay Its Own Way!

REJECT Welfare Subsidies for the Building Industry Association!

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

Facts vs Claims on Measure A Tax

Measure A Claim: "We can be sure one thing won't go to Sacramento ... Every single dime of Measure A funds will stay right here in Merced County"

Fact: The Major funder behind Measure A is the California Alliance for Jobs, a consortium of statewide highway construction contractors and unions. We can be sure this additional sales tax will go here, there, and everywhere, including Sacramento.

Measure A Claim: "The state and federal governments cannot take one dime of Measure A funds"

Fact: Measure A is a matching fund gimmick to attract more than a billion dollars in state and federal highway funds that may arrive and be spent as state and federal government agencies decide. Your potholes are not on their lists. This is a make work scheme for statewide contractors and out- of- town union members.

Measure A Claim: "We're not betting the farm"

Fact: Measure A is certainly betting Merced County farms will be absorbed by urban growth. Even the Measure A “farm picture” appears to be out-of-state. Minnesota, perhaps?

Fact: Fresno County has had a transportation sales tax in place since 1986. Since that time, entire farming districts in Fresno County have been swallowed by urban sprawl. Fresno citizens are paying for development that does not pay for itself.

Fact: Measure A will induce Fresno-level sprawl, Fresno-level air pollution, Fresno-level asthma and Fresno-level political corruption investigations.

Fact: But even Fresno subjected its reauthorized transportation tax plan to public environmental review. Merced leadership wants you to pay the Measure A tax before they begin any public environmental review of the consequences of the sprawl these funds will induce.

Measure A Claim: "Projects include: Ensuring safer routes to school for local children"

Fact: The highest priority project Merced County leaders have is the Yellow Brick Beltway to UC Merced, connected to Highway 99 south of Merced and north of Atwater. There are less than a thousand UC Merced students and they come from all parts of California.

Measure A Claim: “using developer impact fees to supplement Measure A funds so that new growth pays its share of transportation costs”

Fact: Special interests want you to tax yourselves so they won’t have to pay for their impacts on your county. These special interests include: public developers like UC Merced and CalTrans; local, national and international homebuilders; highway construction companies and their unions; the statewide and international aggregate companies mining your rivers and creeks; your elected public officials and their staffs; and the local media.

Measure A Claim: "Citizen oversight: An independent taxpayer watchdog committee and annual third-party audits will ensure that Measure A funds are spent wisely"

Fact: Presently Merced County oversight is by ‘special interest’ only: This conversation between Ranchwood Homes owner and county supervisor Crookham shows how economic development really works in Merced.

Feb. 3, 2006: Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you! ..."

Here is a partial list of residential developments ALREADY planned for Merced County

Atwater - 1,584 units, Atwater Ranch, Florsheim Homes 21 Units, John Gallagher, 25.2 acres.

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

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

Hilmar-JKB Homes, over 3,000 units.

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

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

City of Merced - 11,616 units, UC Merced Community Plan 1,560 acres; 7,800 units,

Ranchwood Homes, 2,355 acres, 7,000 units, Bellevue Ranch, 1,400 acres,

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

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

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

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

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

San Luis Ranch - 544 units, 237 acres.

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

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

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

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

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

Commercial Development

WalMart Distribution Center, Riverside Motorsports Park and a growing number of Strip Malls ….and the list goes on!

What You Can Do:

Vote No on Measure A Tax
Demand to participate in General Plans and community plan update process
Support public statements advocating slow growth or no growth until General Plans and Community Plans are legally compliant.

Paid for by the Committee Against Measure A Tax
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7-25-06
Merced Sun-Star
Measure A may make return trip to ballot...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12498850p-13214958c.html
Despite a poll conducted this month that says the half-cent sales tax that failed in June will do even worse if it is put up for a vote later this year, Merced County officials decided last week to place it on the November ballot. They say the measure, which would raise $446 million over 30 years to fix roads, will get the required two-thirds vote this time because more people will show up to the polls in November than in June. Measure A's failure...stunned many of its supporters. A much more attractive November ballot includes billion-dollar infrastructure bonds and a governor's race is sure to draw more voters. MCAG board members, which includes all five county supervisors and an elected official from each of the six cities in the county, say the county has a one-shot chance at taking advantage of $1 billion that will be set aside for "self-help" counties if voters approve the state bond measures on the November ballot.Sacramento-based Jim Moore Methods...polled 400 county residents earlier this month about the possibility of a November sales tax, concluded that the measure would get only 58 to 66 percent of the vote. "I would not recommend going forward with Measure A again this November," Jim Moore wrote in a letter to Brown. "The survey clearly shows that a November 2008 election date would provide Measure A with the next best chance for passage." If voters reject the measure again in November, it would be the third time a transportation sales tax would fail in Merced County in the last four years.
New measure:
• $10 million for Phase One of the Campus Parkway
• $85 million to widen Highway 99 to six lanes throughout the county
• $10 million for the Highway 152 bypass in Los Banos
• $8 million to widen Highway 59 from 16th Street to Black Rascal Creek
• $8 million to replace the Highway 140 Bradley overhead
• $6 million for Dos Palos street reconstruction

Wal-Mart project opinions sought...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12498854p-13214978c.html
Concerned about what 450 trucks driving in and out of the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center every day would do to Merced's air quality. The city wants to hear from you Thursday... planners will host two public meetings. The answers will be ready in January 2007, when consulting group EDAW, Inc. is slated to finish the environmental impact report. The City Council approved EDAW's $344,655 consulting contract in May; Wal-Mart will pay for the entire project. Wal-Mart meeting...WHAT: Two public meetings about what should be studied in the environmental impact report for the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center. WHEN: 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday WHO: The afternoon meeting is for state and local government agencies and the public. The evening meeting is for the public. WHERE: City Council chambers, 678 W. 18th St.>/b>

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Sierra snowpack problem

Submitted: Jul 12, 2006

Viewing Al “the former next president” Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” at the State Theater in Modesto the other night reminded me of the political disaster of the last six years and taught me that the velocity of climate change is faster than I had imagined. The installation of the Bush regime by the US Supreme Court in 2001 inaugurated a period of pure destruction in the US, a rampage of injustice, imperialism and greed, an orgy of lawless aggression by the wealthy against the rest of us few if any living Americans have ever seen. One casualty of the war of the Bush regime against the world was any concern for the environment. Fortunately, there were a number of wise laws in place and although they have been attacked and weakened greatly, and although enforcement of them has been savaged by this regime, most of them are still in place.

One has to wonder how this purely destructive policy over the last six years has contributed to the increased velocity of global warming, in view of the fact that the US is the world’s top producer of greenhouse gases. Perhaps if Gore had been chosen by the high court instead of Bush, we might be watching a decline in greenhouse gases; perhaps the US would be trying to do its duty, trying to be responsible, trying to help, instead of merely destroying everything on behalf of a plutocracy in favor of the government.

When we come to the problem of the decrease in the Sierra snowpack, however, we must consider that the closest contributor to the conditions causing it is the Central Valley between Sacramento and Fresno. Rampant, uncontrolled, irresponsible growth in this region has roofed over and paved over hundreds of thousands of acres of farm and ranch land that absorbed heat rather than radiating it. Yet, despite the research, all the state seems to be able to conclude from it is that our water supply will change – there will be less water stored for shorter periods as snow and more flooding from rain. Practically speaking, all this means in the near term is that the Great California Water War will continue and become more fierce because, clearly, we are all victims of each other and, of course, the fish or the laws that protect them.

We will think and say absolutely anything to avoid responsibility for our profound and growing contribution to melting the snowpack that provides most of our water. There is no malefactor too bogus to attract the enmity of our leaders, whose fingers are resolutely pointed outward. This is because the Central Valley, particularly the San Joaquin Valley, has clawed its way up from being a large, wet horse pasture to the verge of becoming the next San Fernando Valley, almost entirely as a result of the willingness of government to make the investment in irrigation systems that converted the Valley into an agricultural marvel. People in Bangor, ME, Mobile AL, Chicago, Beaumont TX, Helena MT, Las Truchas NM – people from all over the US contributed taxes to create the federal water projects that got the Valley past the horse-pasture stage. As they contributed to the construction of the railroad before the water.

As a result of this government largesse, our leaders believe that everything is nothing but another deal. But if Gore and the abundant responsible science behind him are correct, global warming cannot be solved by another political deal. Even the perpetually gullible, generous federal government cannot bail us out of this one.

The irresponsibility of the lastest speculative building boom, induced locally by the arrival of UC Merced, is reduced by the local McClatchy chain outlet to a story of how a DA and a sheriff ripped off a prisoner in a land deal. While it is evidence of the general stupidity, venality and political corruption occurring during any huge speculation, and “personalizes” the story, it diverts our attention from the problem. The public did not protect itself from its politicians. The public did not stand up for its own interests against the small, powerful cabal of businessmen, landowners, investors, politicians and their obedient propagandists. The public did not stand up against the awesome, amoral authority of the University of California and its edifice complex. The public in this region, contributing so much greenhouse gas to the Sierra, no longer seems capable of critical thought, can be bullied by two-bit frauds in office, accepts the lies of the local media at face value, is effortlessly intimidated by any authority, and is losing power economically, socially and politically the larger its population grows because no population anywhere near this size was ever intended to live in this place and support itself.

The only real question in the minds of our leaders today is how can the federal and state government fix the Sierra snowpack problem. They will rally prominent citizens and go to Washington and Sacramento and make their Big Whine again. It’s their one tune and it is getting more ridiculous by the year. Our leaders want clean air, more clean water, a healthy environment and, most of all, more growth. Now that we have the UC among us, ghoulishly planning medical research into lung disease with such a growing population of subjects, we are told that through the magic of UC marvelous technological inventions, it will all soon be OK again, we can become the new San Fernando Valley with a wonderful environment.

Our leaders have created a perfect set of mirrors to conceal reality and to admire themselves.

Bill Hatch
-----------------------------------------
Notes:

Sacramento Bee
Climate report sees a thirsty future...Matt Weiser
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/v-print/story/14276733p-15086051c.html
As global warming continues and California's mountain snowpack decreases, the state can expect to see a drastic drop in its drinking and farm water supplies, as well as more frequent winter flooding...findings in a report released Monday by the state Department of Water Resources...338-page study, offers the most detailed look yet at how climate change could affect California water supplies. Average deliveries to cities and farms from state and federal water systems could shrink by more than 10 percent, according to the report. Called "Progress on Incorporating Climate Change into Management of California's Water Resources," the report employs two climate-change models and two emissions scenarios, one involving rapid growth and the other presenting a slower, more sustainable growth pattern. The results were not ready to be included in the California Water Plan Update, a report released last year that helps plan the state's growth. But Kelly said it offers a vital message for local governments.

Merced Sun-Star
Spencer purchased land from jailed man...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12425122p-13147572c.html
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the District Attorney's Office. The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer's potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry last December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator. The attorney general is now looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, and five other prominent locals purchased in 2004. The intersection of the two events created a clash that was "absolutely impermissible" by attorney ethics standards, said Weisberg, the Stanford law professor. "There was a conflict of interest. " Dougherty, the county's presiding judge, said Spencer never told Byrd's attorney about his involvement in buying Byrd's land. Kelsey said she always has been troubled that the sheriff and district attorney joined one of the county's biggest developers to buy the land.

Modesto Bee
Valley's environmental problems don't get fair hearing...Brad Baker
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/story/12409164p-13133834c.html
Are you ready for the equivalent of 10 new Fresnos? That's how many new people are expected in the San Joaquin Valley by 2040, according to experts from the Great Valley Center.... it's time to update the old cliché, "Growth is inevitable." Here are the replacements: Soul-sucking monstrous growth is inevitable. Don't like that one? How about: Cookie-cutter developments covering the most productive farmland in the history of the world are inevitable. Or maybe: Growth that is extremely unhealthy for children and other living things is inevitable. Which is your favorite? I moseyed down to Fresno last week for the Blueprint Summit. I hope for a fair presentation of the environmental perspective; I'm always disappointed. A token environmentalist often is included in the program...the "environmentalist" was a river runner from ElDorado County. His remarks avoided the most pressing environmental issues of the valley: air quality, sprawl, farmland preservation and the influence of the building industry on local politics. Sprawlocrats rule. In local elections, our only choices are the candidates who seem least likely to receive text-message instructions from the building industry during public meetings.

Los Angeles Times
Repeat of tragedy feared in San Joaquin Drainage Plan. Proposal for tainted San Joaquin drainage raises concerns about causing a new ecological disaster....Bettina Boxall
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-kesterson8jul08,1,3140367,print.story
LOS BANOS, Calif. — More than two decades after toxic farm drainage emptying into a small wildlife refuge stilled the chatter of migrating waterfowl with death and deformity, the federal government is on the verge of deciding what to do with vast amounts of tainted irrigation water still produced by San Joaquin Valley croplands. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is under court order to do something about the drainage problem. But its proposed solutions — which involve treating the tainted water and taking a huge chunk of farmland out of production — have raised alarms that they could wreak more environmental havoc while costing federal taxpayers a potentially enormous sum. Now, the Bureau of Reclamation's proposal to create at least 1,270 acres of evaporation ponds as part of the drainage treatment has again raised the specter of Kesterson. A final decision is expected this summer.

Stockton Record
Delta salt battle intensifies...Warren Lutz
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060709/NEWS01/607090319/1001
STOCKTON - The fight over salt in the Delta appears headed to court. Several groups, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, have filed lawsuits against state water officials over new salt standards. And the Department of Water Resources, the other main supplier of drinking water to 23 million Californians, is considering the same. They are not the first legal actions involving Delta salt levels, which plague local farmers with lower crop yields. But they are the first since the state Water Resources Control Board ordered water exporters to meet a new salt standard or risk losing permits that allow them to control the bulk of the state's water. Agencies that buy Delta water also are suing the water board. One of them, the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, claims the water exporters are not the only ones responsible for high salt in the Delta. Several lawsuits were filed against the state Water Resources Control Board on June 15 in Sacramento County Superior Court. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also has filed a federal lawsuit, a water board spokeswoman said.

Modesto Bee
We're ready for next step to improve valley air...Seyed Saredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/story/12432034p-13154335c.html
The San Joaquin Valley's severe air-quality problems present an opportunity for the valley to shine. Success will require bold, innovative actions by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District; the public's willingness to make air-friendly behavioral changes; better land-use decisions and design for communities that will minimize vehicle travel; and continued investment by valley businesses in technology and pollution control...we will need the state and federal governments to do their share through funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. Ours was the first region in the nation to take steps to regulate emissions from on-field agricultural operations and dairies; to require mitigation from new commercial, residential and industrial developments; and to control emissions from large wineries. The San Joaquin Valley air district was the first in the state voluntarily to expand Smog Check II, a model now used to check Bay Area vehicles for emissions compliance. We have successfully implemented some of the toughest air regulations in the nation, while offering businesses reasonable operational flexibility. Over the next year, the district will formulate a plan to meet new standards. We will hold town hall meetings... The first meetings are July26 in Bakersfield and Delano, July27 in Fresno and Huron, and July28 in Modesto and Stockton. Please visit www.valleyair.org for more information.

There's plenty of water -- we just need to manage it intelligently...Dan Walters
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/state/walters/story/14277088p-15086272c.html
All Californians should know that their water doesn't come from a faucet, but is collected, stored and distributed through monumental arrays of dams, reservoirs, canals and pipelines that supplement nature's own impressive water systems. It's an imperfect system, to be certain, but it has worked admirably... California must expand and refine its waterworks. To do nothing in the face of that change is to move backward. The governor's warning about potential flood peril was underscored by the 338-page Department of Water Resources report on potential effects of global warming... DWR also noted that as the weather warms, California may receive more of its water in the form of rain and less in the form of snow, which could heighten winter flood dangers and reduce the natural reservoirs of mountain snowpacks. In truth, California has lots of water, more than enough to satisfy all reasonable demands for human and natural uses, if it's managed intelligently and with users paying its full, unsubsidized costs. We do not need to radically change our lifestyles or adopt doomsday scenarios. Even if the effects of global warming seen in the DWR report come true, stronger winter flows can be converted into better summer supplies, if we do what's needed and stop circular debates that serve other ideological agendas.

Sacramento Bee
Water's coming battle...Editorial
http://www.sacbee.com/content/opinion/v-print/story/14277040p-15086253c.html
A new report warning of global warming's effect on California highlights the different approaches for solving the problem of a shrinking water supply. When it comes to calibrating water supply and demand, two opposing political philosophies rule. There is the concrete crowd that wants to increase supply. And there is a conservation crowd that seeks to lower the demand. The singular political fixation on reservoirs as good or evil creates a set of false choices. On the supply side, there is groundwater storage or better groundwater management... The right mix of solutions depends on the specific circumstances and terrain. The wrong solution is to think concrete or conservation alone can solve all our problems.

Stockton Record
Smelt still at record lows...Warren Lutz
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060712/NEWS01/607120330/1001
STOCKTON - The Delta smelt are hanging on, but just barely. The endangered fish that are used to gauge the overall condition of the Delta remain at record lows, according to the latest survey. Meanwhile, scientists studying the decline are being asked increasingly how to reverse the trend. Last week, the federal government said it would re-examine the effects of pumping Delta water, but there has been no formal discussion about changing the way the pumps are run, said Louis Moore, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman. The California Department of Water Resources, the other agency responsible for exporting Delta water, will draft a Delta smelt action plan by October. Johns agreed scientists are under pressure for answers, not just data.

Los Angeles Times
Schwarzenegger acts to guard State Wilderness. The governor will ask federal officials to ban new roads for mining and other development in 4.4 million acres of national forest...Robert Salladay
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-roads12jul12,0,7373545,print.story?coll=la-home-local
SACRAMENTO — Ending one of his remaining fights with environmentalists, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will ask the federal government today to protect 4.4 million acres of national forests from any new roads for timber, oil or gas exploration or other development. If approved, the Schwarzenegger plan would allay environmentalists' fears that national forest land in California would be opened to development, endangering fish and wildlife. The governor's request was in response to a controversial Bush administration rule that opened millions of "roadless" areas nationwide.
Seabird slaughter in a 'Safe' Harbor. Could the deaths of thousands of terns in Long Beach have been prevented?...Kimball L. Garrett and Kathy C. Molina
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-garrett12jul12,0,5232993,print.story?coll=la-home-commentary
IT SHOULD SURPRISE no one that the coast of Southern California is a difficult place for wildlife to make a living. Tens of millions of people, busy ports, toxic urban and agricultural runoff, overexploitation of marine resources and the relentless destruction of rivers and estuaries make it astonishing and somehow reassuringly life-affirming that thousands of terns - slim seabirds related to gulls - manage to nest along our shores. But the events of last week - when the bodies of several hundred young Caspian and elegant terns were found littering the Long Beach Harbor shore, and the nesting efforts of perhaps 2,000 adult terns on two barges in the port were carelessly erased - underscore the clumsiness of our wildlife-protection efforts and the tenuous threads that sustain our remaining natural heritage. "Terngate" also points to a fundamental problem: Our management of wildlife is disproportionately centered on the protection of the few species that have met the proper political tests to earn and keep an "endangered" or "threatened" designation. The only tern colony site in Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor that has received protective management is for the California least tern, listed by the state and federal agencies as endangered. That's insufficient when species such as the Caspian and elegant terns are kept on the run.

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Saving the edges of the Central Valley

Submitted: Jul 05, 2006

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

We include a several pieces:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 2, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The California Rangeland Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

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

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

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

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

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

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD
Alameda County Board of Supervisors
American Land Conservancy
California Cattlemen’s Association
California Resources Agency
California Wildlife Foundation
Central Valley Land Trust Council
Bureau Land Management
Defenders of Wildlife
Butte Environmental Council
Environmental Defense
California Audubon Society
Institute for Ecological Health
California Cattlemen’s Association
Natural Resources Conservation Service
California Dept of Fish and Game
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
California Dept of Food and Ag
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
California Farm Bureau Federation
Sierra Foothills Audubon Society
California Native Grasslands Association
The Nature Conservancy
California Native Plant Society
Trust for Public Land
California Oak Foundation
US Fish and Wildlife Service
California Rangeland Trust
US Forest Service
California Resource Conservation Districts
VernalPools.org
Wildlife Conservation Board
----------------

US Fish & Wildlife Service white paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vote No on Measure A Tax

Submitted: Jun 03, 2006

URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
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VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

MAKE Residential and Commercial Development Pay Its Own Way!

REJECT Welfare Subsidies for the Building Industry Association!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

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

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

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

Hilmar-JKB Homes, over 3,000 units.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Luis Ranch - 544 units, 237 acres.

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

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

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

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

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

Commercial Development

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

….and the list goes on!

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

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

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

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

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK

MISSION STATEMENT

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

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

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

Submitted: May 31, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the government buy up agricultural land at development prices;

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

Continue strong subsidy support for cotton and rice;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merced public meets a WalMart empty T-shirt

Submitted: May 26, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is this enhancing Merced?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” T-shirt replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T-shirt again referred to the coming EIR.

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

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

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

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

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

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