La famille du porc

Submitted: Apr 04, 2007

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Chairman of the UC Regents Richard Blum

And, just think, neither of these articles below touched on the Level-4 Biowarfare lab in Tracy under the authority of the UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, or the future of UC Merced, a developer boondoggle from which, one imagines, Richard, Marquis du Porc, managed to make a bit of money, somehow – just because he is that kind of guy. And being that kind of guy, of course, we owe it to him, at least through one or another of his investment interests, right? That would be because he has class. Or is it only style?

Lest the reader accuse the writer of tedious repetition of the details of government of pork, by pork and for pork, and the reader wants to go on to new visions of the amazing political abilities and managerial excellence of Big Shot Americans, the reader ought – we think – to consider, when questions arise about how the nation operates, that the principle of Pork will often provide a key to understanding contemporary events that no other key offers. Without the key of Big Shot Pork, the reader, the writer and the rest of us – we think – wander in error on the problem of cause and effect in local, regional, state and national issues.

Bill Hatch


Senator Feinstein's War Profiteering
Democratic Blood Money

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California silently resigned from her post on the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) late last week as her ethical limbo with war contracts began to surface in the media, including an excellent investigative report written by Peter Byrne for Metro in January. MILCON has supervised the appropriations of billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts since the Bush wars began.

Feinstein, who served as chairperson for the committee from 2001-2005, came under fire early last year in these pages for profiting by way of her husband Richard Blum who holds large stakes in two defense contracting companies. Both businesses, URS and Perini, have scored lucrative contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last four years, and Blum has personally pocketed tens of millions of dollars off the deals his wife, along with her colleagues, so graciously approved.

Here's a brief rundown of the Feinstein family's blatant war profiteering. In April 2003, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave $500 million to Perini to provide services for Iraq's Central Command. A month earlier in March 2003, Perini was awarded $25 million to design and construct a facility to support the Afghan National Army near Kabul. And in March 2004, Perini was awarded a hefty contract worth up to $500 million for "electrical power distribution and transmission" in southern Iraq.

But it is not just Perini that has made Feinstein and Blum wealthy. Blum also holds over 111,000 shares of stock in URS Corporation, which is now one of the top defense contractors in the United States. Blum is an acting director of URS, which bought EG&G, a leading provider of technical services and management to the U.S. military, from the neocon packed Carlyle Group back in 2002.

"As part of EG&G's sale price," reports the San Francisco Chronicle, "Carlyle acquired a 21.74 percent stake in URS -- second only to the 23.7 percent of shares controlled by Blum Capital."

URS and Blum have since banked on the war in Iraq, attaining a $600 million contract through EG&G, which Sen. Feinstein permitted. As a result, URS has seen its stock price more than triple since the war began in March of 2003. Blum has cashed in over $2 million on this venture alone and another $100 million for his investment firm.

And it is not just the Feinstein family that has benefited from the war -- so too has the Democratic Party. Since 2000, the Democrats' Daddy Warbucks has donated over $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Committee including leading Democrats including John Kerry, Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, and even Barbara Boxer.

Feinstein's resignation from MILCON was the least the senator could do to atone for profiting off the spoils of war. But Feinstein wasn't trying to atone, she was trying to cover her tracks. If the Democratic Party had any foresight whatsoever it would return all the Blood Money donated by Blum. From there the Senate ought to hold hearings and examine Feinstein's tenure as the chair and ranking member of MILCON and analyze every single contract she approved which benefited her husband's respective companies.

There is absolutely no question -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein has a plethora of ethics violations she needs to account for at once.

Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush and edits

Washington Post
Fox-in-the-Henhouse Government...Ruth Marcus

The Bush administration's House of Straw seems to be blowing apart, buffeted by alternating gusts of scandal and incompetence. The tornado of disastrous headlines -- a Pentagon that can't take proper care of its wounded, a Justice Department that can't be trusted to follow the law or tell the truth to Congress, a top White House aide who lied to a grand jury-- has been so overpowering that the day-to-day outrages of life in the Bush administration tend get overlooked. So it's worth pausing to pay attention to some recent events that similarly underscore the failings of this administration and illuminate one of their root causes: a contemptuous attitude toward government itself. These episodes illustrate the administration's fox-guarding-the-henhouse personnel plan, the disdain of its appointees for the laws they are sworn to enforce and their spoils-of-war attitude toward the government they are entrusted with overseeing...Eric Keroack, Michael Baroody, Julie MacDonald, the official who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service but who has no academic background in biology, overrode the recommendations of agency scientists about how to protect endangered species. MacDonald also shared internal documents with industry officials and groups that lobby for weakened environmental protections, not to mention an online gaming buddy, the IG found. An Interior lawyer called MacDonald's involvement in one endangered species matter "the most brazen case of political meddling" he had seen in more than 20 years in government. Nor, it seems, is such politicization limited to MacDonald. "Policy trumps science within the Assistant Secretary's corridor on many occasions," another department lawyer told the IG, J. Steven Griles, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Lurita Doan

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An unsettling weekend

Submitted: Feb 12, 2007

I was struck by a sense of danger this weekend. I haven't had this sense as strongly for decades. In me, this feeling belongs to the period of the Vietnam War when, suddenly a certain combination of news stories would bring me back from work and daily life to consciousness of deepening crisis.

We who went through that war in our various ways (mine was very protected compared to many others' experiences) cannot help seeing analogies with this war, although we seem to agree widely that history never repeats itself exactly, no matter how similar personal alarm bells from within may sound. There are strong similarities between wars in which imperial powers with vastly superior armament invade foreign nations whose people must defend their lands. This sort of war seems to end up in prolonged, bloody battles with high casualties in the rubble of city streets.

Yet, American politics moves blithely on, as if it were the most important thing. Our latest new voice is Barak Obama, who announced his candidacy for president last weekend, stressing that he "listens" to the people. Those of us old enough to remember the Vietnam War also remember American political party conventions where politicians were forced to listen to the people inside and even outside the convention hall, even if all they heard outside were cries of pain, protest and anger as the people were being beaten and arrested by police. We think Chicagoan Obama is listening to Chicago Mayor Richard Daly, Jr., son of Hizzoner Richard Daly, who unleashed his police force on anti-war demonstrators at the Democratic Party convention in 1968, not long after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. We think Obama is also listening closely to Daly's brother, Bill Daly, chief lobbyist in the campaign to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement. To the extent that Obama is listening to the people as opposed to the party elite, what he is likely to hear?

· Echoes of the same sort of propaganda broadcast through corporate media that deceived the people about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

· Confusion, fear and doubt from the people who do not to believe the Bush propaganda about Iran, but do not know what to believe at a moment in which catastrophic decisions are being made in the name of the listeners.

· Or simply, the pitches of economic special interests benefitting from the present crisis?

"Elect me, I stand for your confusion, fear, doubt, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the world’s largest and most diverse derivatives exchange"?

To look at this bright, eloquent young man from this distance, with this much skepticism, is to admit one is a member of a generation -- largely but not entirely unconcious -- who lived through previous imperial wars, among them Central America.

In Iraq, the famously publicized "surge" is forcing American troops into the high command's original, announced nightmare, an urban, block-by-block street war in Baghdad. Presumably, the cynical Bush administration figures it can now take the higher casualty rate because America has become numb to the war. Or else, coupled with a full-on propaganda campaign, the regime will use it to enrage the American public into supporting war against Iran.

The insurgents have also been knocking down helicopters in increasing numbers, indicating new, better weaponry. As Tom Englehart put it,

Let's not forget that the beginning of the end of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s came when CIA-supplied Stinger missiles began to take down Russian helicopters in significant numbers.

Early reports about how the "surge" on Baghdad will be conducted indicate more American air power will be used, causing Fallujah-level destruction to many neighborhoods. The Bush regime has reached the point where it will destroy Baghdad to save it.

The Vietnam village that engendered that unforgettable phrase, was destroyed and perhaps the US will manage to destroy Baghdad, or at least large portions of it in the coming surge. One of the driving forces in this war is the defense industry, a collection of arms manufacturers who are not in business to minimize their profits and have most excellent lobbyists to persuade the federal government to spend more for their products to kill people and destroy cities. It is beginning to appear that limits of this expenditure might possibly come, not from domestic political resistance to the war, any checks by the government or limitation or greed among defense contractors, but from foreign sources.

The domestic anti-war movement seems weak and fractured at this time and unable to put enough pressure on the Democratic Party in control of Congress to even slow down the escalation, much less stop it. John Ward, an excellent reporter of domestic political dissent, covered the Jan. 29 anti-war protest in Washington. He noted the absence of Ralph Nader, Jason Raimundo, libertarian editor of the great, and Republican anti-war speakers. Apparently, it was an all-liberal Democrat event. Progressives who think they will wrest control of the Democratic Party from pro-war and empire lobbyists, including the Israeli lobby, are wandering in delusion. The anti-war movement in America this time seemed to bargain away power before they had enough to sell for a decent price. As one US Army Vietnam veteran commented to me recently, “Who would ever have thought the American people would have gone to the ballot box to oppose the war.” Yet, that is what Americans did and the Democrats are now selling them out just as dissidents – most steadily Nader – have been saying they would.

The docile protests against the Iraq War lead an American of middle age to wonder: when do the cracks begin to open, how deep will they be? What sort of fearful future are we headed toward, without benefit of strong political dissent and habeas corpus? What should we do, now? What public strategy and tactics would lead toward peace? Collaboration with the Democratic Party does not top my list.

On the international front, Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the US policy last weekend:

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin yesterday warned that the United States' increased use of military force is creating a new arms race, with smaller nations turning toward developing nuclear weapons.

Speaking at a conference of the world's top security officials, including Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, Putin said nations "are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations".

He told the audience of 250 officials, including more than 40 defence and foreign ministers: "The US has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is very dangerous, nobody feels secure any more because nobody can hide behind international law.

"This is nourishing an arms race, with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons," he added, without singling out one nation.

Although criticized by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CN, for being "provocative," it seems that Putin had every right to speak as he did, both as president of a nation as experienced as the US was in both nuclear arms races and non-proliferation agreements, and because Russia is not now invading foreign nations. I don't regard Lieberman as a great patriot. I believe he is a reliable spokesman for the neocons and the rightwing contingent in power in Israel. Neither of these interests reflect broad-based American public opinion, Israeli public opinion, or the opinion of American supporters of Israel.

However, aside from the utter immorality of the US invasion of Iraq, we have discovered something that the least acquaintance with history would suggest: Arabs and Afghanis are very good at war in defense of their territory. They hate our guts. I don't think it takes a PhD in international relations to figure that out or some rudimentary reasons for it. If we weren't often awed to silence by the horrendous tragedy of this war, we could see through the hubris and madness of this to its nemesis. In fact, at this moment, Egyptians, Iranians and Syrians might be able to explain to the Bush regime what is happening and could happen . But the Bush regime listens only to the rightwing rulers of Israel and its American clones, the neoconservatives. It took eight centuries to produce a world leader as powerful and stupid as George W. Bush, to start a new crusade. Now, more American troops have died than died in 9/11 and many times more Iraqis and Afghanis. Bush is not conducting foreign policy; he is having a temper tantrum with the most powerful military in the world as his baby rattle.

In the constant barrage of propaganda targeted at the US population, the new demon is Iran. Patrick Cockburn, who has reported from Iraq since long before the war, comments:

The answer to this question is probably that the anti-Iranian tilt of the Bush administration has more to do with American than Iraqi politics. A fresh demon is being presented to the US voter. Iran is portrayed as the hidden hand behind US failure in both Iraq and in Lebanon. The US media, gullible over WMD, is showing itself equally gullible over this exaggerated Iranian threat.

The Bush administration has always shown itself more interested in holding power in Washington than in Baghdad. Whatever its failures on the battlefield, the Republicans were able to retain the presidency and both Houses of Congress in 2004. Confrontation with Iran, diverting attention from the fiasco in Iraq, may be their best chance of holding the White House in 2008.

The Achilles Heel of this glorious war to bring freedom and democracy to the Islamic masses could be economic. Economic columnist for Asia Times, Chan Akya, reflects on China's changing investment policies, involving $1 trillion. His argument is that investment in US Treasury bills, the strategy recommended by the IMF for developing countries, does not produce the income necessary to buy the commodities China needs to continue to grow. Therefore, China must buy oil and mineral resources in commodity markets and through direct purchase around the world. Akya draws a drastic conclusion for both the US and Iran from this:

As for the Islamic powers of the Middle East, they will sell oil to China if only to spite Europe and the US. In doing so, they will also invite more unwanted attention from the US, which is reeling from its lost campaign in Iraq. The main scenario of the US trying to consolidate its hold over the Middle East continues, and argues for getting more desperate in the light of China's growing self-sufficiency in commodities. Thus, to preserve its role, the US has no option but to attack Iran. [4] The consequences will be horrifying for both parties, and push both combatants toward an inexorable decline.

About time,too.

Some of the more forceful domestic anti-war voices come from dissenting Republicans. Former Assistant US Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts' criticism of the Bush regime continues to evolve rapidly along the lines of Kevin Phillips' and Chalmers Johnson's recent historical theses of tragic American decline due to the stupidity of Bush the Lesser’s regime.

But Roberts, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute, is not content to describe the inexorable forces. He has a program for how the world can save itself and us from Bush:

The US is totally dependent upon foreigners to finance its budget and trade deficits. By financing these deficits, foreign governments are complicit in the Bush Regime's military aggressions and war crimes. The Bush Regime's two largest lenders are China and Japan. It is ironic that Japan, the only nation to experience nuclear attack by the US, is banker to the Bush Regime as it prepares a possible nuclear attack on Iran.

If the rest of the world would simply stop purchasing US Treasuries, and instead dump their surplus dollars into the foreign exchange market, the Bush Regime would be overwhelmed with economic crisis and unable to wage war. The arrogant hubris associated with the "sole superpower" myth would burst like the bubble it is.

The collapse of the dollar would also end the US government's ability to subvert other countries by purchasing their leaders to do America's will.

The demise of the US dollar is only a question of time. It would save the world from war and devastation if the dollar is brought to its demise before the Bush Regime launches its planned attack on Iran.

A possible consequence that does not seem to be intended by Roberts' program is that by plunging the US into a great depression, perhaps bringing down the entire world economy along with it, a slowdown of global warming might occur.

Political dissent, rather than alliances with gravediggers like the major American political parties, is a hopeful solution. Massive, unified, inclusive popular, non-violent dissent is a powerful weapon for bringing down tyrants, but only if it is used and refuses to be manipulated for political ambitions. In fact, the future of any American's political ambition may at this moment depend on it being used to preserve the political system in which those ambitions play.

Bill Hatch


Tomgram: Schwartz on Surging into Catastrophe in Iraq, Feb. 11, 2007,

Putin attacks America over nuclear arms race
David Rising (AP), Feb. 10, 2007

Nader and Libertarians Not Welcome
A Splintered Antiwar Movement
By JOHN WALSH, Feb. 12, 2007

Scapegoating Iran
It's No Use Blaming Iran for a Lost War
Patrick Cockburn, Feb. 12, 2007

Sun Tzu's art of investing
By Chan Akya, Feb. 10, 2007

Dump the Dollar!
How the World Can Stop Bush
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS, Feb. 12, 2007

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Some evolutionary considerations

Submitted: Feb 03, 2007
Tracy Press
Supes vote to back bio-lab...John Upton
Acting on the advice of its agricultural committee, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to support an anti-biological terrorism laboratory that could be built southwest of Tracy to research incurable fatal diseases that affect both animals and people. Superintendent Steven Gutierrez voted against his colleagues, saying it was too early to determine whether the research activities would help safeguard and support the general public. “What research activity” Gutierrez said. “You don’t know what they’re going to do.” The Department of Homeland Security and Lawrence Livermore have not yet announced what types of diseases will be studied at the bio-lab, how the pathogens will be shipped in and out of the bio-lab, or whether accidents will be publicly reported. The Tracy City Council is expected to vote on whether it supports the bio-lab proposal at its meeting Feb. 6. Lawrence Livermore is managed by the University of California. The university’s agricultural division’s government and external relations director, Steve Nation, said after the meeting that the agricultural industry strongly supports the proposed bio-lab. He said the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms support the bio-lab …

Let us return to ground recently covered. Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, was defeated by a coalition of state and national environmental groups because he and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, collectively known as the Pomboza, tried to gut the Endangered Species Act, one of the most popular laws in America.

Cardoza’s membership in the Pomboza stemmed from his support of the University of California’s attempts to destroy the richest fields of vernal pools, containing 15 endangered plants and animals, in the nation.

UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to win the contract to put a level-4 biowarfare laboratory on Site 300, the Livermore lab’s bomb-testing site, near Tracy. This lab would test the most dangerous biological toxins known to man. And it would get lots of defense grants for UC.

Congressional hearings are currently being held that raise the question: is UC, even with Bechtel at its side, incapable of running Los Alamos National Laboratory competently, or is it just impossible to run a weapons of mass destruction lab securely?

The ordinary person in Northern California has read a number of articles in recent years pointing out that UC security at the Livermore lab is not too hot either.

Maybe, that ordinary citizen, especially if he or she lives downwind from Tracy, does one more step of reasoning. You have to coat a bomb with plutonium and detonate it for its dust to spread around too much and pollute the groundwater, as it has near Tracy. It would seem that all you would have to do with a killer virus would be to drop a bottle of it on the floor and it could be all over the region rather quickly. Isn’t that what they do in a state of nature?

When that sort of thought goes through Joe Sixpack’s head, he rolls his eyes, groans, grabs another beer, turns on the TV and hopes he can really, really get into the football game.

An environmentally oriented person will protest this lab, as hundreds of people who have signed petitions against it have done.

Now, here comes the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms. They support the lab, they told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors’ agricultural committee to support it, and they did, leaving it up to the Tracy City Council to hold the line on Feb. 6.

Given the nature of the full-court flak press by UC, the federal government is not interested in putting such an incredibly dangerous laboratory near a place where there is real controversy about it. UC tried several years ago to site this same laboratory at UC Davis, the Davis City Council opposed it adamantly, and the biowarfare lab did not go to Davis. So far, UC has had better luck with the Pomboza.

The decision by agribusiness to support the project was made apparently based on some sort of promises by UC Livermore lab to do some work on animal diseases. This will be done by bringing the animal diseases in concentrated form to the bio lab to research them, right in the middle of the densest populations of cattle and poultry in the state. It is not that these industries lack the benefits of modern agricultural science through the UC Cooperative Extension, the USDA and numerous other scientific entities.

Let’s bring Avian Flu here to the Valley to study it. UC has a proven record of security lapses, but agribusiness knows that UC can do no wrong. If the Avian Flu gets out and wipes out the poultry industry, the migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway and some people, agribusiness and UC can blame it on terrorists. Terrorists are an extremely important part of biowarfare research, because without terrorists, there would be no reason for the research because the terrorists are the ones who are going to introduce the deadly toxins into our environment for which the biowarfare lab is going to create antidotes. The terrorists are going to do this because they hate freedom. If they hate freedom enough to sneak past UC’s porous security and liberate a few deadly cattle and poultry viruses from the Tracy level-4 biowarfare lab, who are you going to blame for that? Osama. Boy, will we be mad at Osama then. We’ll get him for sure if that happens. You bet. But, we’ll have all the antidote we need to inoculate millions of cows, chickens, turkeys, migrating ducks and humans by that time. You bet. UC and the federal government together cannot go wrong.

The only possible explanation for this political decision on the part of agribusiness is that it is anti-environmental. By golly, we’re going to stick it to them damn environmentalists this time! However, one lone San Joaquin County supervisor wisely said that nobody really knew what UC would be studying at the level-4 biowarfare lab. It reminded us in Merced of where UC Merced is going to get its water.

What the proposed biowarfare lab will study will depend on the grants it gets. It will depend overwhelmingly on federal government priorities, which returns us in a dismal circle to the terrorists again. I wonder if there is any other way of getting the terrorists not to unleash deadly plagues upon our livestock, migrating ducks and ourselves other than importing them to the neighborhood to experiment on in another leaky UC weapons of mass destruction lab that would seem to be an attraction for freedom-hating terrorists. But it’s never so simple. Because, in addition to your freedom-hating terrorists, you’ve got those terrorists who just hate Americans because Americans killed their relatives. But that gets into the metaphysics of the imperial defense industry, distracting us from the evolutionary facts on the ground.

Looking at agribusiness from an environmental point of view puts us in mind of what happens to endangered species when they lose too much of their habitat.

Scientific advisory c ommittee to Badlands editorial board


Stockton Record
Pombo in talks to join Oregon-based lobbying firm...Hank Shaw
The Washington insider paper Roll Call reported Tuesday: "The former House Resources chairman is in talks with Pac/West Communications, an Oregon-based PR and lobbying firm that has a roster of timber and energy clients." ...the company already has signed a deal with Pombo's former staff director, Steve Ding, to open a California office in Sacramento. Pombo, who, despite reports to the contrary, isn't rolling in dough, might very well need the added income - especially now that he'll probably keep his town house in Virginia.

Contra Costa Times
Nuclear security agency at risk...AP, MedialNews staff writer Ian Hoffman contributed to this story
Fed-up lawmakers on a House oversight committee said Tuesday that they want to strip a federal nuclear-weapons agency of its security responsibilities, and they threatened to shut down Los Alamos National Laboratory, now under new managers from the Bay Area. The lawmakers criticized the lab for its most recent security breach, in which a contract worker walked out with more than 1,500 pages of classified documents. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said that if problems cannot be solved this time, he will ask that Los Alamos lab, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, be shut down. After more than 60 years of operation by the University of California, the lab now is run by former Lawrence Livermore lab director Michael Anastasio and a consortium led by UC and San Francisco-based Bechtel National. Barton, Dingell and others on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a measure Tuesday to strip the National Nuclear Security Administration of its primary security responsibilities and turn them back to the Energy Department...expressed concerns that NNSA has not fixed Los Alamos security problems despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on improvements. A new management team was installed at Los Alamos less than a year ago, in part to reverse years of security and safety problems. The embarrassing October incident involving the classified documents resulted in a shake-up in the agency that oversees the lab. Linton Brooks, already reprimanded for an earlier incident, resigned this month as NNSA chief. Tuesday's four-hour hearing, lawmakers asked repeatedly why the lab needs to exist and whether it simply has too much responsibility for too many secret materials. Deputy energy secretary Clay Sell said Los Alamos probably could not be replaced or the only place where plutonium fission cores for weapons can be made...much of what happens at Los Alamos is secret because the lab is responsible for the bulk of the strategic nuclear weapons stockpile. "It has been suggested that we shoot the dog," Sell responded. "I have to reject that suggestion.”

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McClatchy-Merced launches investigation of RMP chief John Condren

Submitted: Jan 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is news?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wants the dirt dug up?

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

Why do they want it dug up?

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

Other, more speculative questions include:

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

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

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

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

Badlands editorial staff


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ol' Slippery John and the lawsuits

Submitted: Jan 19, 2007

Members of the Board of Supervisors said they weren't surprised by news of the pending lawsuit.

"You can't be surprised that this is what we're seeing," said board Chairman John Pedrozo. "That's why it was so important to get the indemnification, and that's why I voted against the certification (of the environmental reviews)."

Pedrozo and Supervisor Deidre Kelsey voted against approving the project and certifying its environmental reviews in December. The county's three other supervisors voted in favor of the project. – Merced Sun-Star, Jan. 17, 2007

On Tuesday, the Merced County Farm Bureau took the courageous step of filing notice of their intent to sue the county and Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP) for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. On Thursday, the petition was filed along with petitions from other local citizen groups against the racetrack.

During the public hearing process on the RMP project, severely and illegally truncated as it was by the arrogant, corrupt Merced County Board of Supervisors, Farm Bureau Executive Director Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo and a number of Farm Bureau board members joined many members of the public to testify against the project for as long as they were permitted to speak (five minutes). They submitted extensive written comments. They spoke for longer periods at the town hall meetings sponsored by Supervisor Deidre Kelsey after the public hearing on the project had been closed by former Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Mike Nelson. Like many, many other residents of Merced County, the Farm Bureau “exhausted its administrative remedy,” as the lawyers say.

So, now the Farm Bureau are suing the smug, arrogant, corrupt government of Merced County, dominated by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced (since the new House Speaker took him to the river, he’s a reborn Democrat).

The Merced community needs to praise and support the Farm Bureau and other citizens groups for this stand. It is not easy for them. From the time before UC Merced was a “done deal,” the local Farm Bureau has been the target of finance, insurance and real estate special interests (FIRE) as well as the University of California and all local elected officials, because before that time, Merced had a strong commitment to agriculture. Special interests had to get in front of agriculture by trying to spin its largest representative organization, the Farm Bureau. These interests, working through elected officials, set up a host of committees, workshops, plans, programs all aimed at convincing Merced farmers and ranchers that UC Merced would not stimulate the largest agricultural land-eating housing boom the county had ever seen. The politicians even finally agreed to give the county the Williamson Act, which farmers and ranchers had been unable to get through the board of supervisors in two previous attempts over the last 35 years. Somehow, it was sold as “mitigation for UC.”

But that was just a little fib compared to the lies around the great land-deal boondoggle called UC Merced. The problem for Farm Bureau members has been that, as landowners and farmers and ranchers looking at the future of agriculture in Merced County, they have been the objects of most of the strongest special interest, political and economic pressures since the housing boom began.

The FIRE special interests are again lining up to thug around the Farm Bureau. Today the local paper published this interesting tidbit:

After the Merced County Farm Bureau announced plans to sue the county over its approval of the $230 million, 1,200-acre racetrack proposal, RMP CEO John Condren put out a call to arms.
In an e-mail message sent Wednesday afternoon to business heavies Steve Newvine, Julius Pekar, Doug Fluetsch, Robert Rodarte, Bob Carpenter and Bob Rucker, Condren wrote the following. We quote without editing:
"Good day to all -I am pleased to report that RMP has reached a settlement with the US Bureau of Prisons and is close to having a settlement with Foster Farms. Keep your fingers crossed on that one. To date, the Merced County Farm Bureau is the only legal challenge we face. Regarding the Merced County Farm Bureau, they have filed a Notice of Action against Merced County (referencing the RMP EIR) that gives them 10 days to file their actual lawsuit.
Countering this move, our very own Scott Reisdorfer has initiated a campaign to pressure the Farm Bureau to withdraw their lawsuit. Scott has made contact, and continues to make contact, with various farming and ag members and ag-based organizations that are proponents of RMP. All have agreed to inundate the Farm Bureau's offices with phone calls, fax and e-mails demanding that the Farm Bureau back-down.
If you can help with this campaign, please do so! Thanx - John Condren"

Agriculture, still by far the largest industry in the county, suffered a deflation in its value as an industry, while experiencing a tremendous inflation in land value for conversion to subdivisions during the UC Merced hoopla and real estate speculation boom.

Bob “Mr. UC Merced” Carpenter (Leap/Carpenter/Kemps Insurance), is the original, bona fide “Mr. UC Merced.” Bob Rucker, Rucker Construction, worked closely with the original bona fide Mr. UC Merced, when Rucker was chief of staff for state Sen. Dick Monteith, R-Modesto, one of the many political Mr. UC Merceds. Newvine is president and CEO of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce. Fluetsch, of Fluetsch/Busby Insurance, is president of the Merced Boosters. Robert Rodarte represents Citigroup here in town. According to its website, Citigroup is an international financial conglomerate with operations in consumer, corporate, and investment banking and insurance. Julius Pekar represents the Merced County Chamber of Commerce. Scott Reisdorfer seems to be a man involved somehow with auto racing in Fresno. He’s into things like “nostalgia drag racing.” It looks like he’s staff for Condren now.

One could ask, How much do these people want?

All of it, would be the answer.

This is the group dispatched by Condren to put pressure on the Farm Bureau board of directors to block the lawsuit. Despite the ridiculous hash the Sun-Star made of the story Thursday, the lawsuit was filed in a timely manner. Three other local groups filed another lawsuit on the same day. The Merced FIRE faction will leave the heckling and heavy whispering campaign to Don Bergman and others of his ilk, now below the new speculator economy scum line.

Appreciation for farming, the agricultural economy and natural resources has fallen as rapidly in Merced County as farm real estate values have appreciated. Depreciated as vital economic producers, farmers are now appreciated as owners of land, as long as they were willing to sell it. And, by the way, if they decide to keep it and continue to farm, they should keep their mouths shut, according to Condren’s finance, insurance and real estate claque and the chamber flaks.

All growth is good, according to Merced FIRE and their bought and sold politicians, the elected board of supervisors and the city councils in the county. Each time the supervisors have amended the county General Plan, which recognized agriculture as the most important industry in the county, more agricultural land was taken for real estate development. The Farm Bureau has joined early critics of the evolving slurbocracy and become more critical of the county’s de facto policy of amending the General Plan whenever a subdivision is proposed, to the point that it offers no guidance for “planning” at all! The Farm Bureau also has been the agricultural community’s most consistent public opponent of more lot splits on farm and ranch land.

Such is the toady local press that, after mangling a good story about courage and principle, it ends on two lies: that indemnification is good policy; and the Chairman of the Board John Pedrozo voted against the RMP project.

Indemnification was described in a Coalition Statement signed by 17 local, regional, and statewide organizations last spring:

Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority -- city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county's infrastructure.

Adopted 2006
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge VernalPools.Org
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Central Valley Safe Environment Network

Ol’ Slippery John likes indemnification because it shields the board from having to pay public funds for the legal consequences of its decisions. We can’t believe the supervisors themselves were ever bright enough to come up with the lipstick on this pig: that through indemnification the public actually benefits from projects destroying health, public safety, quality of life, agricultural land, natural resources and wildlife habitat.

If the political approach worked, if politicians like Ol' Slippery and his fellow supervisors actually listened to the public rather than the special interests, indemnification would be unnecessary. But, since the arrival of UC Merced and the Merced FIRE speculators, the entire local planning and land-use political faculty – city and county – has been captured by outside special interests. Lawsuits have been the only way the public could make any headway against special interest political pressure.

FIRE, the finance, insurance and real estate sector that controls the state government and its congressional delegation lock, stock and barrel,has found a way to make local elected officials comfortable: indemnification against any financial responsibility from lawsuits filed by citizens and organizations with legal standing to oppose environmentally ruinous land-use decisions.

Indemnification is one of those aspects of corruption that make for stupid county supervisors. Is Ol’ Slippery John stupid enough to believe that the public is going to swallow his story about voting against the RMP project just because he repeats nearly daily that he did? Or is something else going on?

If Pedrozo wanted to stop RMP, all he had to do was vote with Kelsey against the board motion to override the Castle Airport Land Use Commission’s designation of a 10,000-foot noise and safety zone around Castle airport. That motion required four yes votes to pass. If Pedrozo had voted with Kelsey against it, there would have been only three votes for the override, the project would have been stopped and there would be no lawsuits against it.

I spent the evening a year ago in a public hall in Livingston, arguing with Pedrozo about a completely illegal mile-long sewer line the county had allowed, if not permitted, to be built from the Livingston wastewater facility right through the middle of prime farmland. A 42-inch sewer trunk line tends to induce urban development.

It was quite an ugly party, unless you enjoy political pathology. Pedrozo stood before the townspeople, surrounded by county and city staff and officials, all of them lying in their teeth. The city officials and staff said they had legal authority to permit the pipeline, built entirely on county land. The county staff and Pedrozo denied any responsibility for the project.

The fix was in so deep, it was almost as if a band of angels had laid that 42-inch, mile-long pipeline through prime farmland in the middle of the night accompanied by a celestial choir.

Pedrozo shouted down the few people who objected to the illegal pipeline, suggesting they were outside agitators. All three of us lived closer to Livingston than most of the outside liars on the stage, including Slippery John.

The worst thing about Pedrozo is not even that he can’t tell the truth. The more we listen to Ol’ Slippery, the more we suspect he actually believes he did vote against the RMP project. And it is clear he sees absolutely no connection between his vote to approve the Castle airport override and the present lawsuits brought by the Merced County Farm Bureau and three community groups.

It’s one thing to deceive the public consciously. It is quite a different thing to deceive oneself. Contemplating Ol' Slippery's wiggling around indemnification and his crucial vote for RMP, we find ourselves at the borderline between the corrupt and the wacko.

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Merced residents sue County and Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Jan 18, 2007

Merced County sued over approval of Riverside Motorsports Park

MERCED (Jan. 18) – Three local groups on Thursday filed a petition in Merced Superior Court against Merced County and the Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP).

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources filed the petition under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) against the County’s approval of the final environmental impact report for the RMP project.

The petition asserts the County failed to follow proper CEQA procedures, violated CEQA and abused its discretion in a number of ways, some of which will be familiar to participants in hearings on the RMP project.

The citizen groups state that Merced County failed under provisions of CEQA:

To recirculate the RMP project final environmental impact report (EIR) for public review and comment;

To consider substantial evidence in the record to support its statement of overriding considerations in connection with the approval of the project;

By approving the RMP project final EIR despite the availability of feasible alternatives and alternative site configurations that would substantially lessen or avoid the project’s significant adverse impacts;

By improperly and too narrowly defining the project objectives to allow adequate treatment and consideration of the project alternatives;

To analyze the potential impacts of the project’s inconsistency with the Merced County Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUP) and further failure under CEQA to analyze the impacts of overriding the Merced County Airport Land Use Commission’s determination that the project is inconsistent with the ALUP;

To disclose, analyze, consider and mitigate the project’s significant impacts to water quality, biological resources, traffic and circulation.

The citizen groups also assert that Merced County abused its discretion by failing to consider written comments submitted during the Oct. 25, 2006 County of Merced Planning Commission hearing concerning consideration of the RMP project.

A spokesperson for the Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources said Thursday, “Merced County government failed its citizens with the approval of this project. The County sold out substantial economic, agricultural and environmental resources to outside special interests by approving RMP.”

“The supervisors violated numerous provisions of environmental and public-process law to railroad this project through,” said Lydia Miller, president of San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center. “Increasing numbers of Merced County residents realize that their local government has been fatally corrupted by special interests and that they will have to go to court to protect their natural and wildlife resources, water supply and quality and air quality, and their agricultural economy, for the common good. Otherwise, special interests will turn Merced County and the rest of the San Joaquin Valley into another San Fernando Valley.

“We are very confident in the strong petition submitted to the Merced Superior Court today by attorney Gregory Maxim, of the Roseville firm Sproul and Trost,” Miller added.

The petition and notice of intent is attached.

For further information contact:

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center Attorney at Law
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax Sproul and Trost LLP
(916) 783-6262 tel

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources

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The Invisible Middle Finger

Submitted: Dec 24, 2006
Invisible hand
Term used by Adam Smith to describe the natural force that guides free market capitalism through competition for scarce resources. According to Adam Smith, in a free market each participant will try to maximize self-interest, and the interaction of market participants, leading to exchange of goods and services, enables each participant to be better of than when simply producing for himself/herself. He further said that in a free market, no regulation of any type would be needed to ensure that the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services took place, since this "invisible hand" would guide market participants to trade in the most mutually beneficial manner.

Smith published his theory the year the United States was formed and declared its independence from Great Britain. Manufacturing was in its infancy. Nevertheless, for the last 30 years, American economists have re-embraced Smith’s invisible hand with the fervor of rightwing religious fanatics embracing the Rapture, Armageddon and all that.

But, in 2000, the financial services sector of the US economy became for the first time in history a larger percentage of the gross domestic product than manufacturing. This year, US agricultural imports may exceed its agricultural exports. The balance has steadily shrunk for the last decade.

Contemplating this impressive statistic, the Badlands Journal editorial board responded with a genuine new economic theory, which we call the Invisible Middle Finger.

Now, the strength of a theory lies in its simplicity and its capacity to explain diverse economic phenomena. We believe the Invisible Middle Finger – what could be simpler? – explains it all.

A year and a half ago, the Merced real estate market was described as one of the most inflated markets in the nation. Farmers couldn’t get farmworkers because everybody was a carpenter. Developments were sprouting as fast as new orchards once did. The Invisible Middle Finger had guided Merced County ever since the UC Merced project was approved, with a series of economic overrides of the environmental review documents, and set loose a speculative real estate feeding frenzy with the result that the county now leading the nation in home mortgage foreclosures.

Nevertheless, enormous profits were made on inflated land values and by the speculative “home flippers” who didn’t get left standing in the game of musical chairs. The huge inflation in land values also enabled local landowners to borrow a great deal more money.

Throughout it all, the local paper, the Merced Sun-Star, bought by the McClatchy chain soon after UC Merced was a done deal, has been a fervent if unconscious choirmaster of the Invisible Middle Finger. Why, just the other day, in a story about how an allegedly corrupt former district attorney was exonerated for serving alcohol to a minor, who was later the victim of vehicular homicide, could not bring itself to relate that it was two UC Merced students who ran the boy down. In our faith-based real estate speculation, we cannot bear to speak a negative word about the little darling credit cows at UC Merced. Surely, the Invisible Middle Finger is the only explanation.

Basically, the Sun-Star got the story right on the Dec. 12 supervisors meeting: Supervisor John Pedrozo voted against the Riverside Motorsparts Pork final environmental impact report on a losing 2-3 vote and then voted with the majority, providing the necessary vote to pass the airport noise/safety zone restriction, without which the RMP project could not have gone forward, despite approval of its environmental review. It wrote a headline: "Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo votes YES on Riverside Motorsports Park."

Somebody, and we think ol’ Slippery John might have been part of it, screamed bloody murder, so the paper changed the headline. What they should have done was keep the headline, bring the airport-vote graph up near the top, and explain what it meant. While we doubt that was beyond the compositional capacity of the reporters, the Invisible Middle Finger had thwonked the editorial mind. So the paper caved, and confused the public.

This may be an excellent lesson for the paper and a warning to keep editors outside the vicinity of an actual story. Actual reporting only seems to confuse them. They belong in offices with doors that close and out of the hair of reporters trying to do the difficult work of covering public meetings.

However, under the aegis of the Invisible Middle Finger, we encountered the faith-based newspaper management belief that the only journalism than sells is malicious gossip. Newspaper subscriptions are falling but the faith goes on.

This “personal” story focused on Supervisor John Pedrozo, who had made no secret that he would vote for the noise/safety zone reduction, for the benefit of other projects, although he would vote against the racetrack. We knew that Pedrozo had been thumped in the head by the Invisible Middle Finger. The only real surprise that could have come out of that meeting would have been if Supervisor Kathleen Crookham had sided with Pedrozo and Supervisor Diedre Kelsey against certifying the environmental review of RMP. But even Crookham wasn’t dumb enough to ignore the Invisible Middle Finger. Board Chairman Mike Nelson was never in doubt, and spoke of wishing “to leave a legacy” ( a monument to the Invisible Middle Finger). Nor was Supervisor Gerry O’Banion, a politician perhaps the chosen messenger in Merced County for the Invisible Middle Finger.

The supervisors meeting was an evening event, which went on until “the wee hours” as the paper put it. The paper has a deadline, so the editor and at least one reporter left after the early votes to file the story.

In short, the paper screwed up the story and confused its readers needlessly.

We should have known what would happen the moment the editor appeared, because this was the guy who lectured to the public about the meaning of irony in defense of a racist column about Border Patrol busts in Planada last spring. There doesn’t seem to be anybody too poor, vulnerable or innocent, especially if they have names like Oseguera or Gomez, who can’t be the victim of this paper’s madly spinning moral compass needle.

But the Invisible Middle Finger is pointing directly at Planada real estate and so that needle just spins and spins.

The paper’s sports editor got into the story last weekend by asking who the RMP investors were.

"No, I'm not discussing our investors and their identity doesn't matter in any case," (RMP CEO John) Condren sniffed when asked about it on Friday.
Fine, that kind of arrogance will play with reporters and various members of the public who dare touch on subjects he doesn't like, but...
What about the county?
Incredibly, nobody on the board seems to care where Condren has stumbled across a quarter-billion dollars for the largest private investment in Merced County history.
And despite Condren's scoffing at the question, it does matter.

It was a fair, necessary, competent reporter question. We do know the names of investors in the sports franchises of our region: Lurie, Magowan, Shorenstein, Finley, Haas, the Maloufs, the DeBartalos, Davis, Kelley. Local NASCAR team sponsors include the Piccininis (SaveMart) and the Fosters (Foster Farms). They are wealthy people with good credit ratings.

It hasn’t been since one of the early information sessions on RMP that investor names like West Hills Investors and Race Partners have shown up on RMP flak. These names are about as revealing as Acme LLC or ABC Inc. or XYZ Import-Export and, in any event, have disappeared from the Internet. Perhaps RMP CEO John Condren’s letter to investors accurately predicting how Tuesday’s votes would go two years ago spooked the investors after the letter was leaked and published.

The problem with Condren’s arrogant letter was that it didn’t have any class, and you usually expect $250 million to come with a little class, particularly in the sporting world. But, once you grasp the theory of the Invisible Middle Finger, any relationship between class and $250 million magically disappears.

The personal attack on the sports editor in the letters-to-editor space was immediate and severe. The first writer advised the paper’s management: “Put editor on a leash.”

It is always interesting to read the Merced Sun-Star and see the half-truths that Sun-Star Editor Joe Kieta's reporters have to say. Another attack on Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren was in Saturday's issue of the Sun-Star. It once again proved that the reporters don't know anything about what they write.… If Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron had done some investigation he would have had a number of answers to his questions. He would have known that a group of private investors don't have to have their names in the paper. The firm that is funding the track is very reliable and trustworthy. Now wouldn't that have been good for the paper to report that fact?

Actually, Cameron wouldn’t have gotten any answers from investigation, at least not on the Internet, which provides exactly zilch information on RMP investors, other than several references to Kenny Shepherd putting together a group.

People could still legitimately ask where Condren and Shepherd are going to find $250 million. Nobody really even knows who paid for the ridiculous EIR done for the project or who will be writing the checks to indemnify the County for legal expenses arising from lawsuits against it for having passed this indefensible environmental review. While the duo seem to be competent pitchmen and competent racecar drivers (and Sheperd is possibly a competent manager of Altamont), they just don’t look like $250 million. And nobody who has been following this project ever supposed that they were $250 million.

The sports editor’s professional question drew a second letter attacking the sports editor was published:

For someone who has "spent the better part of a decade covering the business of sports and entertainment," he doesn't know much about these things. Thankfully the county and our supervisors do. The books and finances of any privately held entity are indeed that -- private. Ask any entertainer or track owner, or for that matter, any farmer or rancher. The Sun-Star's obsession with the finances of private citizens is more than disturbing.
Maybe the Sun-Star is the greatest paper in the Central Valley.
And maybe it's a fish wrapper.
If Steve Cameron was hired to cover the impact of RMP and professional racing, he may be guessing for years where his press pass went.

These two writers, who regularly defend local real estate speculators, are out to take this sports editor down for asking the right question at the right time and for describing Condren’s rudeness.

For lack of any accurate information about whom the investors in RMP are, people begin to speculate. Speculation moves around two poles: either Condren has $250 million, or he doesn’t.

If he doesn’t, this can lead to all kinds of wild questions, take your pick. For example, what sort of relationship does Condren have with Foreign Trade Zone #226 Merced and how necessary is the appearance of such a project for the future of that enterprise, whose official grantee, according to the federal government, is the Merced County Board of Supervisors? Is it merely coincidental that “control” of the former Castle Air Force Base passed from the federal government to Merced County a week after the RMP project was approved and the airport noise/safety zone was shrunk to fit RMP and other projects in its vicinity?

Students of the Invisible Middle Finger recall the famous Pegasus project, fomented upon Castle by an alleged granddaughter of President Eisenhower. They also recall, a few years later, a great, dishonored prophet of the Finger, Sun-Star reporter Gary L. Jones’ famous lead concerning another disappeared Castle project: “Ring, ring, ring goes the bell. Bounce, bounce, bounce goes the check …”

If Condren does have $250 million, how much of it is local money and who are the local investors? People against this environmental disaster might be interested in boycotting their businesses if they knew who they were, because this project is going to be the very definition of environmental impacts and cumulative environmental impacts. People know it and they are angry at what they perceive as the betrayal by their elected officials and local business leaders.

Of course, Badlands Journal’s gifted editorial board knows it is just the working of the Invisible Middle Finger.

We don’t know who the investors are or why the supervisors approved this project. We do know that the Invisible Middle Finger is hovering over Merced making the well-known gesture. In light of the letter writers’ vitriol, we suspect the Invisible Middle Finger is at least in part homegrown. But, who knows? There is a whole lot of funny money in the American economy today and it doesn’t have any kind of conscience about public health and safety.

Finally, we return to the Sun-Star editor’s weekend apologetics and attack on ol’ Slippery John Pedrozo.

I called Pedrozo last week and asked him to explain the rationale behind his split decision. He said that he voted "yes" for the airport rule change because it possibly could affect other proposed developments in the area.
But Pedrozo is flat-out wrong about that. The vote was only about RMP and did not bind further developments.

In fact, the vote “bound” the airport to shrink its noise/safety barrier. It didn’t bind any developments. It unbound them from sensible noise and safety standards around an airport.

Once again, we have the friendly, apologetic editor setting the record straight, while continuing down the dimwitted “personal” story angle. And getting the story wrong. This is a political, financial and, at the moment, above all a legal story. About the only thing we can deduce from Kieta’s column is that the Sun-Star will be going after John Pedrozo like it went after Gordon Spenser. The two letter writers are trying to intimidate the sports editor out of going after Condren in the same way.

This story isn’t about Pedrozo, Condren, or any of the supervisors. The Invisible Middle Finger bent down and popped them all on their noggins and they are seeing themselves as stars. Actually, the supervisors did an excellent political job of diffusing the public with four town hall meetings, which altogether, included probably 15 hours of public testimony that didn’t count a bit, because they weren’t legal public hearings. Three of the meetings were held by Kelsey, an opponent of the project because it will seriously impact here district. The last was held before the Dec. 12 vote by the project’s strongest supporter, Chairman Nelson. Pedrozo made no secret of how he was going to vote. His motive for those votes was clear to any enlightened observer: the Invisible Middle Finger was hovering right over his head and pointing straight down upon him that night.

Meanwhile, the Invisible Middle Finger is drawing "fully controlled access" expressways all over the county.

However, despite the defeat of reason in favor of speculation to establish a temple to the stock car in one of the two worst air pollution zones in America as a failed war for oil rages on in the Mideast killing, among many, many others, soldiers from Merced and the San Joaquin Valley, and the local housing boom busts as spectacularly as the inflation in home prices a year ago, and unfinished subdivisions surround the city, there was a positive result. The public has begun to realize that their local government is corrupt and has begun to say it out loud.

Badlands Journal editorial board


Invisible hand definition

American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips, pp. 266-267

USDA Economic Research Service

Merced Sun-Star
Risky loans squeeze owners
...Leslie Albrecht
Merced homeowners who took out high-risk loans this year are more likely to fall into foreclosure than borrowers in any other city nationwide, a new study predicts. Merced's projected foreclosure rate ranked No. 1 on a list of 376 cities compiled by the Center for Responsible Lending, a North Carolina-based nonprofit organization predicts that 25 percent of Merced's subprime loans will end in foreclosure. Subprime loans are made to borrowers with poor credit histories...include adjustable interest rates... When the interest rate increases, payments can jump up by 30 percent in some cases. Borrowers are faced with "payment shock," said Kathleen Keest, one of the study's authors. "You've got this perfect storm of these adjustable rates starting to adjust at a time when housing prices are coming down and interest rates are going up." Skyrocketing home values encouraged borrowers to take out risky loans because they assumed they could refinance with a better loan after their equity increased. "Here we are two years later and that (home value) appreciation is not happening." "What goes up does sometimes come down." Victor Jimenez of First Merced Mortgage Co. said he's noticed an increase in foreclosure activity. Two years ago when Merced was rated No. 2 in the state in home value increases, buyers flocked to the area... "People just used their houses as an ATM machine," Jimenez said. "It was a disaster waiting to happen and now it's happening."

Merced Sun-Star
D.A. may have served alcohol to underage drinker who died
… Chris Collins
Sun-Star investigation: Gordon Spencer relied on others to check IDs at country club
Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer has admitted that he "probably" served alcohol to an underage drinker at a party last month who was later killed by a car as he walked home.
Spencer also said he didn't check IDs at the party while he served drinks as a bartender, but instead expected others to keep underage drinkers away from the alcohol.
Greg Gomez, a 20-year-old from South Merced, was served alcohol at a Dec. 18 buffet dinner at the Merced Golf and Country Club, the Sun-Star has learned.
He was invited to the party by his girlfriend, who works at the club. The dinner and free drinks at the bar were arranged by managers at the club who hosted the party to thank employees.
Spencer said he wasn't sure whether he served Gomez alcohol, but added: "I'm not going to say I didn't." …

Merced Sun-Star
UC, city are one
...Josh Franco, UC Merced Student Body President...Letters to the editor
Much has been said about the relationship between students and the community this semester. People who continue to erect boundaries between students and the community further propagate an "us versus them" mentality; however, I write to say that we are truly one and the same. We each contribute to the vitality of this planet, whether it's planting crops, mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, serving food, trading stocks, attending city council meetings, writing our representatives, e-mailing our professors, researching alternative energies, discovering cures for aliments or contemplating the future...while some semblance of division will always exist because few people will always feel unappreciated or unwelcome, such should not deter us from making our community what it must be: an inspiring beacon of perpetual hope. Students value Merced, and this region, for the opportunities it offers and responsibility of serving the public it bestows upon us and we share this responsibility with the community. Therefore, I conclude with a heartfelt "Thank you" to the people of the city of Merced for giving students the opportunity to learn about, live in and love the Valley! – April, 2006
You can come to our Valley but can you play our blue violin?

Modesto Bee
Buying house still out of reach for most
Report ranks Stanislaus nearly last in affordability
… By J.N. Sbranti
Despite falling home prices, the Northern San Joaquin Valley continues to have among the least affordable housing markets in the nation, according to new statistics.
Median-income families could afford to buy fewer than 5 percent of the homes sold in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties during July, August and September.
Nationwide, median-income families could afford 40.4 percent of the homes sold, according to the National Association of Home Builders-Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index.
In Stanislaus County, 4.1 percent of homes were affordable, because the median price was $372,000 and the median income was $54,400.
In Merced County, 4.3 percent were affordable; the median price was $359,000 and the median income was $46,400.
In San Joaquin County, 4.8 percent were affordable; the median price was $434,000 and the median income was $57,100.
Northern San Joaquin Valley homes weren't always so costly. In 1999, more than half of the homes sold in the three counties were affordable to those with median incomes.
The index showed that Los Angeles County was the least affordable place to buy. Median-income families there could afford 1.8 percent of the homes, because the median home cost was $523,000, while the median income was $56,200.
To see the index, including data going back to 1991, go to:

Merced Sun-Star
County controls Castle property
…Abby Souza
Few property owners will take a $10 check in exchange for more than 1,900 acres, but that is exactly what Merced County paid the Air Force for land at Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center.
At Tuesday's Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting, Board Chairman Mike Nelson handed a $10 check to Air Force Real Property Agency's Philip Mook.
In exchange, the county and several other groups now own 1,991 acres on the former Air Force base.
The "purchase" was actually a transfer of deeds for the land, said John Fowler, county director of commerce, aviation and economic development. The $10 was representative of a title transfer fee of one of those deeds …In the meantime, the board also approved a management agreement with Federal Merced Associates. That company will act as landlords for the property for the next five years, as well as market and sell property within the base with board approval.
This company will pay the county $1 million annually in collected rent and other income …

Put editor on a leash...Don Bergman...Letters to the editor
It is always interesting to read the Merced Sun-Star and see the half-truths that Sun-Star Editor Joe Kieta's reporters have to say. Another attack on Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren was in Saturday's issue of the Sun-Star. It once again proved that the reporters don't know anything about what they write. I have had experience with half-truths written by the reporters at the Sun-Star...seem that Kieta wants to create as much controversy as possible in the articles, maybe he thinks this will sell more papers instead of making the paper look like it doesn't know what they are doing. If Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron had done some investigation he would have had a number of answers to his questions...that a group of private investors don't have to have their names in the paper. The firm that is funding the track is very reliable and trustworthy. The Sun-Star and The Modesto Bee came out in support of the project, so why now are they attempting to discredit the project? Maybe Hank Vander Veen should get his editor on a leash and wait until the project is developed and then hold Riverside to what Condren has said. EDITOR'S NOTE: Cameron is an internationally recognized expert on sports facilities -- including racetracks.

Merced Sun-Star
Attack wasn't necessary
...David Wood, Merced...Letters to the editor
To paraphrase, it's amazing after four years, Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron is still guessing... What's with the personal attacks on John Condren? Have some degree of professionalism! For someone who has "spent the better part of a decade covering the business of sports and entertainment," he doesn't know much about these things. Thankfully the county and our supervisors do. The books and finances of any privately held entity are indeed that -- private. Maybe the Sun-Star is the greatest paper in the Central Valley. And maybe it's a fish wrapper.

Merced Sun-Star
RMP gets a green light
Riverside Motorsports Park moved from plan to reality early Wednesday morning when the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved the raceway complex in a series of votes that spanned eight and half hours. With Supervisors Deidre Kelsey and John Pedrozo dissenting on two key votes, plans for the 1,200-acre racing venue earned just enough support to move forward. The board's 2:30 a.m. decision followed hours of emotional public testimony from raceway supporters and opponents...300 people filled the board chambers and nearby overflow rooms at the meeting's 6 p.m. start...the final vote was cast just before 2:30 a.m. the crowd had thinned to a weary three dozen. Kelsey voiced the strongest opposition to the raceway -- at one point reading a 35-minute statement condemning the project as a disaster for taxpayers and an attack on farmers and ranchers near the raceway's future northern Merced County site. Kelsey slammed environmental reviews of the project as inadequate and rushed, urging the board to delay its vote until more studies on the project's impacts could be completed. She said approving of the project would damage the public trust and disgrace the supervisors. "As this project sits in front of me today, it's terrible," said Kelsey. "...The credibility of our board is on the line with this." Pedrozo cast the only other votes against the project. "I know what it is to be a farmer and I know what it is to have cars coming down your country roads," said Pedrozo. "I can't support the (environmental impact report), not until I am totally confident that all the people that live out there are taken care of." The board voted on six motions that collectively allowed the project to move forward. By the end of the meeting, the board had voted to approve the project's environmental reviews, to allow traffic and noise from the raceway to exceed current county standards, and to overrule a finding by the Airport Land Use Commission that the racetrack's site is too close to Castle Airport's runway.

Merced Sun-Star

Steve Cameron: Riverside has too many unanswered questions
It feels like the hollering and arguing have been raging forever. Two years?
Three? Four?
The Board of Supervisors perhaps put an end to the debate this week, approving all the key provisions which give the green light to Riverside Motorsports Park -- a $240 million development that would change the face of Merced County.
Note the key word -- perhaps…In any event, Condren insists the board never inquired about his investors. And in this case, his routinely smug tone was justified.
"A list of investors was neither asked for, nor does the county have such a list," said Mark Hendrickson, the county's director of governmental affairs.
Don't you want to scream: Why not?
It's astonishing what the county board doesn't know and didn't ask about the Riverside Motorsports Park -- despite a request to change the general plan regarding land use for that property and obvious opposition from a significant segment of the population.
Even Condren's allies don't really know much about the business plan which supposedly provides an underpinning for the motorsports park.
The local business community, which has supported Riverside while dreaming of the millions which could be pumped into our economy (Condren's figures, naturally..), has little clue how the project really might work.
To borrow an old line, you could fill the Grand Canyon with what we don't know about the Riverside project.
Or about Condren, for that matter.
Maybe Riverside Motorsports Park could be the greatest thing to hit the Central Valley since cows.
And maybe it's a dead fish.
Amazing that after four years, we're still guessing...

Riverside Motorsports Park, 1 January 2005 “To all our valued investors and supporters, Happy New Year!”

Although it’s too early to start planning a ground-breaking party, we can report that RMP has won the support of 4 of the 5 members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors … and we may succeed in securing the unanimous support of the Board once the EIR is released. In addition, RMP has secured the approval and support of State Senator Jeff Denham, US Congressman Dennis Cardoza, 5 Chambers of Commerce within Merced County, the City Councils of Atwater and Merced, and RMP has the support of the California Builders Industry Association. Added to this list are over 1,500 local Merced County citizens who have signed to be on our project update mailing/e-mail list.

Merced Sun-Star
Pedrozo could have voted down RMP -- but didn't
...Joe Kieta
Dec. 14 edition. It was right there in big, colored type on the front page: "Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo votes YES on Riverside Motorsports Park." I distinctly remembered when Pedrozo said he was against the park's environmental impact report -- which I took to mean he was opposed to the Riverside project moving forward as-is...struck at how strongly he voiced his opposition. How could we have printed that Pedrozo voted "yes" when he clearly voted "no"?...a razor-sharp copy editor caught the error and it only appeared in half of all copies. But was it really a mistake? I'm convinced that it wasn't an error at all. When you whittle it down and trim out all of the baloney, Pedrozo voted "yes" when it counted most. The first involved whether to certify the environmental impact passed 3-2... The second (and most critical) vote concerned changing rules that require a certain distance between a development and Castle Airport's runway. The changes, which essentially sidestep the airport land use commission's rules, require a 4-1 vote of the supervisors to pass. If the vote failed, the RMP project would have been essentially dead. Pedrozo voted "yes." In essence, the fate of the project was in Pedrozo's lap -- and he put it over the top. Pedrozo said that he voted "yes" for the airport rule change because it possibly could affect other proposed developments in the area. But Pedrozo is flat-out wrong about that. The vote was only about RMP and did not bind further developments. If Pedrozo really, truly was against Riverside Motorsports Park, he would have voted "no" on the airport land use vote. But he didn't. Whatever you think about RMP (and this newspaper has cautiously endorsed it, mind you), Pedrozo's "no" and "yes" votes are just plain contradictory. I hate mistakes in the paper. But I love pointing out hypocrisy and political gamesmanship -- two terms that seem to fit Pedrozo like a pair of trusty Levis.

Keep media untethered...Mike Salm, Merced...Letters to the editor
This is not the first time I've seen a letter to the editor that says, in effect, "put the editor on a leash." It also happened earlier this year when there was a lot of investigative reporting regarding the behavior of a few government officials in Merced. You never want to get too close to some government officials. They don't like it. So should we, the people, then be like a possum and smile, roll over and play dead? In this country we have a government of the people, for the people. We have a right to know how our government functions.

Plainsburg resident's attempt to recall supervisor fails...Corinne Reilly
County auditor Stephen Jones said Friday that Owens didn't serve Pedrozo with notice of the recall in accordance with state guidelines. "You swore under penalty of perjury that you had made proof of personal service on John Pedrozo," Jones wrote in a letter to Owens, dated Dec. 18. "However, you did not make personal service as you attested, as Mr. Pedrozo was out of town." The letter said that the county's attorney has determined the recall petition is invalid. Owens said he tried on Friday to personally serve Pedrozo, but couldn't track him down. Now Owens said he intends to serve Pedrozo via certified mail.

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Grassrooters' factual flyer on the racetrack

Submitted: Dec 11, 2006

The attitude of Riverside Motorsports Park and Merced County government toward your environment, health and public safety is: Gentlemen, start your engines, put your pedal to the metal and pass every law and regulation protecting public health and safety on the right as fast as you can.

RMP Chief John Condren claims he’s got your elected officials in his pocket.

Although it’s too early to start planning a ground-breaking party, we can report that RMP has won the support of 4 of the 5 members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors … and we may succeed in securing the unanimous support of the Board once the EIR is released. In addition, RMP has secured the approval and support of State Senator Jeff Denham, US Congressman Dennis Cardoza, 5 Chambers of Commerce within Merced County, the City Councils of Atwater and Merced, and RMP has the support of the California Builders Industry Association. Added to this list are over 1,500 local Merced County citizens who have signed to be on our project update mailing/e-mail list.

--Riverside Motorsports Park, 1 January 2005 “To all our valued investors and supporters, Happy New Year!”

A quorum of supervisors should be disqualified from voting on this project at all, when a developer is bragging that loudly about how he owns them. To begin with, Jerry O’Banion and Kathleen Crookham. O’Banion is widely known as having steered the project from the west side to its present location. Crookham gave a promotional talk on the RMP project before the Clipper Club at Central Presbyterian Church. Their involvement with the project ought to disqualify them from voting on it.

In a January 1, 2005 letter to RMP investors, Condren claimed:
· The traffic plan for the project was complete; NOT TRUE
· Zoning restrictions pertaining to noise impacts have been amended such that unlimited Motorsports activities
may occur without additional restrictions; NOT TRUE
· The RMP Master plan is approved; NOT TRUE
· RMP event schedule will include all the largest names in motorsports. NOT TRUE

Two years later, there is no traffic plan; the EIR simply states that the noise level from auto racing is a “significant, unavoidable impact” to be overridden by a vote of the supervisors; the RMP master plan is only a draft that will be rewritten after – not before – the supervisors approve the project; while RMP tells its investors it will draw all the big names in auto racing (and hundreds of thousands of spectators), it tells the locals the eight tracks in the project will be almost exclusively for local car clubs, drawing only a few thousand spectators.

The Big Consultants Shuffle. The County recommended a firm it has done a great deal of work with, including the lion’s share of planning for UC Merced. It couldn’t come up with a traffic plan, so RMP replaced them with another firm willing to say there is a traffic plan when there isn’t one.

RMP wrote its investors two years ago the traffic studies are all done by Jan. 2005. At the Nov. 15 public hearing on the project, county Public Works informed the public there was no traffic plan. The RMP traffic consultant agreed: there is no traffic plan beyond waiting to see what roads spectators choose.

On Nov. 28, for the first time, county Public Works informed the people of Delhi, that Shanks Road, El Capitan and Palm were going to be a major thoroughfare for race traffic until two weeks ago, that some county roads would need to be widened, which might call for eminent domain if residents and RMP cannot agree on prices.

Who are RMP’s investors? These people are presumably underwriting a project that will significantly worsen our already severe air pollution, fill our country roads with frequent, periodic traffic jams, and fill our ears with the din of racecar engines. The Merced public has a right to view a full financial disclosure statement on who these people are who are investing in the destruction of our environment – before the supervisors we elected vote to approve this project. The public needs to ask how much RMP investor money will end up in campaign coffers of officials we elect.

Indemnification. The County and RMP have an agreement:

Indemnification and Hold Harmless
Approval of this Project is for the benefit of Applicant. The submittal of applications by Applicant for this Project was a voluntary act on the part of the Applicant not required by the County. Therefore, as a condition of approval of this Project, the Applicant agrees to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the County of Merced and its agents, officers, employees, advisory agencies, appeal board or legislative body of Merced County (collectively, “County”) from any and all claims, actions and proceedings against the County to attack, set aside, void, or annul an approval by the County concerning the Project occurring as a result of the action or inaction of the County, and for any and all costs, attorneys fees, and damages arising
therefrom (collectively, “Claim”).”


This agreement allows the County to approve this project without taking any responsibility for these new, impacts to our environment added on top of UC Merced and its induced housing boom – air, traffic and noise – because they aren’t liable for legal costs.
However, the County has not yet signed the agreement. nor did they include it in the conditions in the staff report on the project.

Water. A year ago, Board Chairman Mike Nelson misspoke, saying Atwater would supply RMP with potable water. Winton doesn’t have enough water. Water Castle is supplying off-base residents is contaminated. So, where’s the drinking water?

Overweening control of Planning Director.

Modifications to the Development Plan and Administrative Permit may be approved administratively by the Planning Director if determined consistent with the intent of the Master Plan, the RMP EIR, and the procedures and finds defined in Section 18.50.02(D) of the Merced County Zoning Code.

-- P. 7-1, RMP Draft Master Plan

This means that planning director, in concert with RMP, can change the plans for the project any way they want to, unless the public challenges it. In other words, the planning director works from RMP, not for you.

Conflict of interest. The Merced County Board of Supervisors is the land-use authority for all unincorporated land in the county. But, it is also the land-use authority for the former Castle Air Force Base. The RMP project, which adjoins Castle, cannot be approved until the board overrides the noise-zone for the Castle airport established by the airport commission. The board plans to do this on Dec. 12. But, these are two separate actions, both with large consequences to the noise level, and the airport override must be analyzed in the RMP environment impact report. The County did not do that. In fact, there is no analysis on the environmental, public health and safety impacts from this decision. The County is in conflict of interest on these two projects.

Contempt for the public. The County did not make the new staff report to the public (including state and federal agencies) available until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the day before the hearing. Nothing could better express the County’s complete contempt for the public and favoritism for special development interests. It also perfectly expresses the County’s lack of respect for law and elemental fairness. In violation of public access provisions within the California Environmental Quality Act, the public has not been allowed to view the working file of this project without recourse to the state Public Records Act. This is illegal.

The lack of analysis of cumulative economic and environmental impacts from the chaotic growth in Merced requires the public to demand a moratorium on any more projects not already approved by appropriate local, state and federal agencies. RMP is not approved by the appropriate agencies, therefore the board should not approve it before the county general plan has been fully updated in a legally compliant fashion.

The board of supervisors must deny the Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

· an inadequate project description that can be modified at will by administrative decision without public review;
· serious conflicts of interest involving at least two members of the board voting on the project and the applicant’s claims nearly two years ago that he already had a super-majority of supervisors in his pocket;
· segmenting and peacemealing the entirely different project of the override of the Castle Land Use Commission decision, which requires its own EIR;
· deliberate failure of the County to make essential project documents available to the public in a timely manner;
· failure of the land-use authority to perform its mandatory duty to consult federal resource regulatory agencies on the environmental impacts of the proposed project;
· failure to do any analysis on the economic impacts of the proposed project on the Castle Commercial-Aviation Economic Development area;
· failure of the County to do cumulative economic impact studies on the impacts of this proposed project and other commercial, growth-inducing anchor tenants;
· failure of the County to consider the negative impact on the proposed project of the third failure of the transportation tax measure;


Dear Supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson, Kelsey and O’Banion: November 27, 2006

Thank you, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, for scheduling three town-hall meetings this week to address the immediate impacts that the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park will have on your district. We would ask that supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson and O’Banion also schedule meetings in their districts and listen to their constituents’ concerns about the RMP project.

Town-hall meetings are not formal hearings and we question how much impact they will have. However, the Board of Supervisors has closed the public hearing. At this stage, town-hall meetings appear to be the best way we have to afford citizens the opportunity to participate in the process.

At the close of the public hearing on RMP, there was still no traffic plan. The traffic study that had been done was based on a flawed, deceptive traffic count in the wrong season for either agricultural harvests or auto racing. This is unacceptable to the public.

The RMP project proposes that District 4’s rural two-lane roads be used as highways for thousands of cars to reach the raceway site. The RMP project will negatively impact the roads, environment and public health and safety of other districts as well. Districts 1, 2, and 3 (Livingston, Atwater & Merced) will be impacted by traffic congestion, slowed response by emergency vehicles, noise, and air quality threats of the project.

All residents will be impacted by road deterioration. Our nationally recognized air pollution could ultimately cause the federal government to stop highway funds until we make greater efforts to clean up our air. We will then be asked to raise our taxes to fix the roads because development does not pay its way.

All Merced County residents will be impacted when the Board of Supervisors lowers the standards of our out-dated General Plan to accommodate the RMP project. The Board should not even consider projects with the massive impacts of RMP before it updates the county General Plan.

We request that the Board of Supervisors do the following:

· hold meetings in all the districts and be accountable to those that elected you to represent our County, not developers’ interests;
· re-open the public hearing on RMP, since about 50 people were not able to testify at the last hearing;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review RMP’s and the Planning Department’s responses to public testimony;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review the traffic study, which was not finished at the time of the public hearing.
· not decide on RMP or other large development projects before the County has finished updating its General Plan.

Thank you.
Tom Grave
Merced County- Citizens Against the Raceway


Write and call your supervisor and tell them to reopen the public hearing and/or deny this project.

Attend Board of Supervisor meetings on Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. and on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.

Write and call Congressman Cardoza, whose wife is a doctor.

Write and call state Sen. Jeff Denham and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani.

Paid for by Citizens Against RMP

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Conglomerate bagman flying quietly under the radar

Submitted: Dec 10, 2006

Castle Farms, Toronto-based Brookfield’s stake in Merced County, has a big interest in a vote the Merced County Board of Supervisors will be taking on Dec. 12. If the noise zone of Castle airport is diminished from two miles to one mile, Castle Farms may be able to develop the back part of its property, which it has claimed would be left in open space.

The board is voting on this Castle Aviation and Economic Development issue because, since the Castle joint powers agreement between the County and the cities of Merced and Atwater fell apart, the County has had sole land-use authority over the former airbase. They also have land-use authority over the RMP land, which in unincorporated. So, wearing one hat, supervisors will vote to diminish the noise zone of the Castle airport, and wearing another, they will vote – according to best informed guesses – to approve the racetrack.

Then, the supervisors will sit back and watch the lawsuits fly, knowing they are indemnified by RMP from having to pay legal fees and costs arising from their decision, irresponsible to the environment and public health and safety.

However, from the public point of view, considering the mutually reinforcing negative environmental impacts of the three projects -- the airport, the RMP, and the Castle Farms should be considered one and the same from the viewpoint of the California Environmental Quality Act. Both RMP and Castle Farms plans rely to a significant extent on the decision to reduce the airport’s noise zone. All three of the projects look to one land-use authority, the County. If the CEQA legal term, cumulative impacts, is to retain any meaning in law or policy, the decision to override “for economic reasons” the airport’s 2-mile noise zone will have cumulative impacts from the western part of the City of Merced into an area stretching to the Merced River Corridor, Atwater, Winton, Cressey, Ballico, and Delhi because it will pave the way from the RMP project and permit expansion of the Castle Farms project.

A representative of the Canadian financial conglomerate, Brascan, of which Brookfield is a subsidiary and Castle Farms is a project, will be watching the supervisors’ vote on the airport with deep interest.

The Roseville-based conglomerate’s representative is described in the Sacramento business press as a “veteran land-development consultant,” linked with Angelo Tsakopoulos and Eli Broad in projects in Natomas (a major flood plain) and about 6,000 acres west of Roseville. He came to Merced about two years ago and began to show up in all kinds of interesting groups.

In the past year, an entity called Brookfield Castle Del Mar directed $43,000 to the measures A and G campaigns to raise sales taxes to pay for new roads, a direct benefit to Castle Farms and RMP. How much Brookfield money has been directed into the campaign war chests of supervisors is an interesting question.

Toronto-based Brookfield Homes is a subsidiary of the Canadian conglomerate, Brascan. According to the Brookfield website:

Brascan is engaged in the business of asset management with a focus on real estate and power generation. The company’s assets include about 70 office properties in seven major North American cities and London and 120 power generating facilities, primarily located in the northeast. In addition, the company provides a host of management and advisory services, primarily in the real estate sector to corporate and individual clients. Brascan is recognized as a developer of master planned residential communities in both Canada and the United States. The primary operations are real estate, power generation and asset management.

Brascan operates in many areas of the real estate business. The company owns and manages a portfolio of office properties, develops master planned residential communities and offers its clients an array of bridge and mezzanine lending, alternative asset funds and financial and advisory services. The company’s master planned residential community business is conducted under established trade names Brascan, Brookfield Homes and Carma, with operations in six North American markets: California, Virginia, Denver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto and two markets in South America: Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Brascan also builds homes for sale and develops commercial lands and income properties for investment and sale.

The company has created a platform of alternative asset funds within the real estate sector. The funds managed by the company and its co-investors include: Brascan Real Estate Finance Fund, Brascan Real Estate Opportunity Fund, and the TriContinental Capital Fund. The company also manages the Royal LePage Franchise Services Fund, a royalty fund targeting primarily retail investors … Brascan's asset management activities are focused on alternative investments, including private equity and direct investments in real estate; and energy and resource assets. The asset management business of Brascan has clients which include pension funds, life insurance companies, financial institutions, corporations and high net-worth individuals. In addition, Brascan also develops and manages structured investment products and companies designed to appeal to specific investors including income trusts, split-share companies and asset securitizations. Brascan also manages a number of hedge funds. The company also has investments in privately-held investment management and mutual fund companies that manage equity and fixed income investments.


So, on Tuesday, follow the money to discover why the supervisors don’t take the obvious step that would stop the racetrack: voting down the airport noise-zone reduction.

Brookfield is one of the biggest, richest development corporations operating in California. This Canadian assets/real estate/energy conglomerate last year bought Olympia & York, which, until its spectacular collapse in the London commercial real estate market, was the largest development company in the world.

The rumor is that distressed developers with unfinished subdivisions are flocking to the deep pockets represented by the veteran Roseville development consultant.

The benefit to Castle Farms from reducing the airport noise zone may prove once again the ancient political truism: No matter how screwed up and destructive a situation is – politically, economically and environmentally -- it always benefits somebody, usually the guy with the deepest pockets.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

-- Sacramento Business Journal, March 21, 2003

In order to approve the reduction of the airport noise zone and approve the RMP environmental impact report, the supervisors will have to employ something called an “economic override.” In the case of the EIR, they will have to find that economic benefits override 34 “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts. But, whose economics are overriding whose? No economic benefits from the project for Merced County are liable to offset the economic disruption to agriculture in the whole region from Highway 99 to the Merced River Corridor and Delhi to west Merced.

Badlands editorial staff


Merced Sun-Star
Supervisors override ban on building near airports
...Corinne Reilly
The Merced County Board of Supervisors issued a preliminary decision Tuesday to override a 2003 finding that plans for the Riverside Motorsports Park conflict with land use rules at Castle Airport. The Airport Land Use Commission ruled three years ago that plans to build the 1,200-acre motorsports venue adjacent to the airport conflict with the county's 1999 Airport Land Use Plan. Specifically, raceway plans conflict with a safety zone rule that bans development within 10,000 feet of an airport runway. Questions over the legitimacy of the commission's finding were raised when the county's Department of Commerce, Aviation and Economic Development began updating Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center's master plan four months ago to reflect new state guidelines on land use near airports. Under the new state guidelines -- on which local airport land use plans are often heavily based -- development is only banned within 6,000 feet of runways...the conflict between raceway plans and airport rules would be eliminated, said John Fowler, the county's director of commerce, aviation and economic development. "The problem is that the local plan is inconsistent with the state of California's plan," Fowler told the board during Tuesday's meeting. Tuesday's unanimous vote doesn't mean an end to the debate...board's decision kicks off a 45-day comment period during which local, state and federal aviation agencies can give their input on whether the raceway's proximity to Castle poses a risk...board is scheduled to make its final decision to approve or deny plans for the raceway on Dec. 12.

The Wall Street Journal Online
Brookfield Consortium Buys O&Y Portfolio
By Mark Heinzl and Ryan Chittum
TORONTO -- A consortium led by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Brookfield Properties Corp. agreed to acquire O&Y Properties Corp. and a related real-estate investment trust for about 1.1 billion Canadian dollars (US$880 million).
O&Y Properties' flagship property is Toronto's First Canadian Place, a 72-story office complex in the heart of the city's financial district and home to Bank of Montreal's headquarters. Including liabilities, the value of the transaction is about C$2 billion, Brookfield said.
Brookfield, controlled by Toronto conglomerate Brascan Corp., owns 46 commercial properties, including New York's World Financial Center. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board makes investments on behalf of the country's national pension program…

Sacramento Business Journal
Placer university land gift could net developer hundreds of millions

by Mike McCarthy

Borrowing a page from local history could put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of land developer Angelo Tsakopoulos and his investment partners.

Many local real estate players believe that Tsakopoulos is donating land west of Roseville for a Catholic university to help him eventually win development approval for land he controls around the college parcels.

If they are correct and Tsakopoulos gains urban zoning for the agricultural land, he and his partners stand to garner huge profits. Some estimate the value of the land that could be rezoned for home construction could reach $800 million — a 1,094 percent increase from average current values.

Real estate observers are neither shocked nor surprised that Tsakopoulos might donate the land to gain leverage. On the contrary, it is seen as a very smart move, and not at all unusual in the land game.

"That's how the public gets a lot of things, and it's nothing new," said Cameron Doyel, a veteran Sacramento land-development consultant. "There's nothing wrong with the profit motive, if it's a clean deal.”

Locally, the practice of giving land in hopes of improving one's nearby investment dates to the mid-1800s when John Sutter Jr. laid out Sacramento's land plan, including parks to be donated to the city in return for development of surrounding parcels, Doyel said.

Environmentalists resent the Placer County move because it could lead to the development of so much open space, on and even beyond the university land.

"There are environmental considerations," said Al Green, a spokesman for the Sierra Club's Placer Group. "We have to speak for wildlife. It can't speak for itself."

Whether Tsakopoulos' group eventually tries to get the land near the proposed school developed, the aging developer really wants to make a lasting cultural contribution to the Sacramento area in the form of the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, Angelo's son and the spearhead for the project.

"I've been very fortunate in life," added the younger Tsakopoulos. "I'd like to do something really meaningful, so I could look back and say I left this place a little better."

Angelo Tsakopoulos last week announced that he and his associates would donate 600 acres for a university site to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the system that owns Saint Mary's College in Moraga and other colleges around the world. Another 500 nearby acres would be donated to be developed and sold for up to $100 million, and all of the proceeds would go to pay for building the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos.

All of the land is located west of Roseville on land now zoned for agriculture. The younger Tsakopoulos stressed that the donation is not accompanied by any request that additional lands be entitled for development.

If, someday, the landowners decide to seek those entitlements, they will still have to pass muster with local officials, he pointed out. "Something like that would be a long way down the road," added Tsakopoulos, who expects his own company, KT Development Corp., will spend four years or more working to get the donated land approved and ready for construction.

But who's counting? Pundits say Angelo Tsakopoulos, who has tried unsuccessfully in the past to get zoning changed on much of the land, stands to reap a sweet harvest if he can do it this time around, when local developable land is scarce and demand is breaking all records.

He controls more than 6,000 acres of agricultural land in south Placer County, including some 5,400 acres just west of the West Roseville Specific Plan area that the city plans to annex, said Dave Jarrette, a partner and land expert in the Roseville appraisal firm of Giannelli, Jarrette & Waters.

Land like that is now selling for $10,000 to $15,000 an acre, and Tsakopoulos bought much of it for considerably less, said several veterans of the Sacramento land market.

The higher prices are for land closer to Roseville, where the likelihood of urbanization is greater. Figuring an average value of $12,500 an acre, the total current value is around $67 million.

If Placer County rezoned the land for residential development, the value would instantly skyrocket to about $60,000 per acre, estimated experts in the land business.

Tsakopoulos would not likely be able to get zoning for home construction on all of the acreage, however. From one-third to 40 percent of the land would likely be for schools, parks and other nondevelopment uses. More would be used to preserve wildlife habitat.

But if Tsakopoulos were able to win rezoning for only 2,000 acres, not counting the 1,100 acres of university land — a reasonable possibility — the value would be some $120 million. That's a 79 percent increase.

If he won the next level of approvals, the creation of tentative maps for parcels, the value would shoot to $150,000 per acre for a total of $300 million, estimated veterans of the land game.

If he took the project further, developing the infrastructure and "finishing" parcels so they are ready to build houses on, he could get at least $400,000 per acre — $800 million in today's dollars.

All of these calculations are based on the observers' estimates of current land value — $67 million. Most of the pundits figure Tsakopoulos and his partners bought or optioned the land for about $2,500 an acre — a normal value for agricultural land, reflecting an investment of less than $14 million.

Should the land be declared permanent open space, the value would probably drop back to that basic, agricultural amount.

At least one professional estimated Tsakopoulos would need to pump another $12 million into getting the land entitled. He surely has already invested millions in the land, including his purchase price of the land and any mortgage payments he may have. But it seems likely that the increase in value would more than compensate for his expense, they said.

A land developer's view: Tsakopoulos' huge landholding west of Roseville runs from the 3,100-acre West Roseville Specific Plan, which Roseville is about to annex, westward to the Sutter County line, Jarrette said.

The stretch runs about four miles east to west and approximately the same distance north to south at its widest point.

The tract is clearly in the path of growth.

On the east, Roseville is annexing toward the Tsakopoulos holdings. To the south, Placer County is processing development approval for the 5,200-acre Placer Vineyards area, in which Tsakopoulos is a major landowner. Just south and west of Placer Vineyards, Sacramento County is processing large tracts for development near Elverta and east of Interstate 5 near Sacramento International Airport. To the west, Sutter County is pushing to develop a huge industrial park.

The combination of these with the Tsakopoulos land would create a new urban corridor between Roseville and the airport.

On top of that, Placer County is planning to build Placer Parkway, an expressway that would connect Highway 65 to Highway 99/70 near the airport. The route would likely pass through Tsakopoulos' land, just north of the future university site.

From a land developer's perspective, the scenario means the land in west Placer is a natural for urban zoning. "It will all fill in someday," said one prominent land expert who asked not to be named.

But there are obstacles. For one, Placer County in 1994 declared the whole area out of bounds to development. Also, the Placer Parkway proposal includes no offramps — a move intended to inhibit growth along the expressway, said Terry Davis, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.

And a Placer County committee working to create a huge habitat preserve in the west county sees the Tsakopoulos land, rich in habitat, as a prime candidate to be part of the preserve, he added.

Strategic maneuvering: Tsakopoulos' donation is seen by many as a business strategy that accomplishes several ends for him, beyond the philanthropic contribution.

First and foremost, observers generally expect that the gift of higher education will prompt the county to ease its development restrictions on Tsakopoulos' surrounding land. The gift of the additional 500 acres to fund the university simply makes the idea of zoning the land for development even more compelling for authorities.

Also helping Tsakopoulos, the university land would need public works infrastructure if the county wants to see the university developed. That means lines for electricity, water and wastewater, as well as roads, would have to be built there. This infrastructure in turn would make it easier to develop his adjacent land.

Moreover, the university land is close to the likely route for the Placer Parkway, putting enormous pressure on the county to create one or more connections from the parkway to serve the university, Davis noted. An interchange on the parkway also would make it easier to develop adjacent land.

If the donation ultimately leads to development approval for the balance of Tsakopoulos' land, the likelihood that his land would be used for a habitat area is reduced, Davis said.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

Merced Sun-Star
Smoother roads ahead?
...Leslie Albrecht
Measure G...For the third time in four years, voters will be asked to support a sales tax increase for road improvements...needs approval from 66.7 percent of voters to pass, debuted in November 2002 as Measure M. It failed, earning 61 percent of the vote. In June 2006 it was reborn as Measure A and garnered 63 percent of the vote, falling 795 votes shy of winning. Just five months later, it's back as Measure G. But with each failure, the voices of those opposed to the measure have grown louder. While there is no organized campaign against Measure G, grumblings from the Letters to the Editor section of the Sun-Star show the battle to finally pass the measure is far from over. If it passes, Measure G will hike the sales tax in the city of Merced to 8.25 percent -- within spitting distance of San Francisco's 8.5 percent -- for the next 30 years...would generate $446 million to help fund transportation projects countywide, from reconstructing Livingston's Main Street to building a new Bradley Overhead. Half the money would go to road maintenance. Kelsey said a Caltrans representative told the county earlier this week that if the governor's infrastructure bond measure passes and Merced achieves self-help status with Measure G, the county will be eligible for funding to widen Highway 99 from the Stanislaus County line to Livingston. The measure's most prominent critic is Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat running for Assembly against Republican Gerry Machado...said the statewide transportation bond measure on the November ballot will provide funding for Merced County roads...noted that the transportation bond will set aside $614 million for eight Central Valley counties in addition to the $1 billion earmarked for widening Highway 99. William Stockard, a retired superintendent of Merced County schools, said Measure G only benefits developers and other businesses like the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park and the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center that "want to get free money."...said the county should cover the cost of road maintenance by charging developers higher impact fees when they build here. Charles Magneson, a farmer near Ballico-Cressey, said he's opposed to Measure G because some of the projects it would fund will create sprawl and eat up farmland..."(Measure G is) heavily funded by developers that are looking for those roads to encroach on farmland to make their developments possible." In June, fliers denouncing Measure A as "welfare subsidies for the Building Industry Association" appeared in the Sun-Star three days before the election. Measure G campaign has tweaked its strategy...raised about $200,000...with the large contributions from donors like developer Brookfield Castle LLC, Del Mar; construction company Teichert & Son, Sacramento; Foster Farms, Livingston; E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto; K. Hovanian Forecast Homes, Sacramento; Wellington Corporation, Morgan Hill; Team 31, inc., Morgan Hill; Atwater East Investors, Danville; and Ferraire Investment Company; Balico...endorsements from Rep. Dennis Cardoza, all three Merced chambers of commerce, five county newspapers including the Sun-Star, the entire County Board of Supervisors and the entire Merced City Council. If it doesn't win, Measure G could come back, but by law supporters would have to wait until the November 2008 election.

Re: Public hearing to consider the issuance of a proposed decision and findings regarding the Airport Land Use Commission's Finding as to consistency between the Airport Land Use Plan and the Riverside Motorsports Park Project- PH #2-10:00am

For more background on the airport noise-zone issue, see this letter of comment from San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water (POW) to the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

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Submitted: Nov 22, 2006

The general environmental interest in the San Joaquin Valley is strong because it concerns basic health and safety issues. Anger is stirring in the public against rampant air pollution-producing development and the politicians who promote it.

In a recent article, Stockton Record political reporter Hank Shaw ended a look into the post-Pombo world with a quote from a professor:

"I am dubious that this will be a productive Congress," Pitney said. "I think there's going to be a lot of posturing."

If the professor's crystal ball is clear, and Shaw's interview with Pombo’s Ghost, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Merced, is any indication, we predict that Cardoza will rise in Congress like an untethered helium balloon.

But where will that balloon go, exactly?

The Congressional Progressive Caucus is almost twice as large as Cardoza’s Blue Dog Coalition. Other factors might spook Pombo’ s Ghost into striking aggressive postures. The CPC is led by two progressive congresswomen from the Bay Area. If that sounds familiar, it could be because the speaker-elect of the House and California's two US senators are also progressive women from the Bay Area.

Cardoza claims to be positioning himself in the political center.


Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and congresswomen Nancy Pelosi, Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee represent the center of the nation, which just voted the Republicans out because we the people are sick of this catastrophe of a war and corruption in Congress.

Cardoza told the Stockton Record he and the Blue Dogs are forming a coalition with a group of Republicans to influence policy.

This reminds me of a funny story that occurred one morning at a congressional breakfast held by former Rep. Gary Condit, Ceres. Condit was one of the founders of the Blue Dogs, a group of Boll Weevil congressmen that split from the Democrats when Newt Gingrich became the Republican speaker of the House.

Condit had invited Pelosi down to speak. She arrived with a friend, a small Hispanic woman in a neat city suit, whom she introduced only as "my friend, Dolores." She and her friend sat down at the head table with Condit and some lords of agribusiness and broke bread.

Meanwhile, a local Democrat with a living memory, a good camera and a sense of humor, took a number of pictures of the head table, Pelosi and Dolores chatting with the czars of wine, milk, and cotton.

As the event was breaking up, he offering the pictures to the great men who had been at the head table, suggesting that a picture of such-and-such a captain of agribusiness exchanging pleasantries over croissants with Dolores Huerta, the famous leader of the United Farm Workers, would look good on their boardroom walls.

The vignette could indicate how much influence Pombo's Ghost will have with the speaker.

State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, D-SF didn’t like the Valley any more than the Valley liked him. State Senate Pro Tem John Burton, D-SF, called UC Merced the biggest “boondoggle” he’d ever seen. They are long-time Pelosi political associates.

The Record reporter speculated that Cardoza might get a subcommittee chairmanship in the House Agriculture Committee that would permit him to advance the agenda of California's "specialty crops." It will be interesting to see if Pelosi will give it to Cardoza, after he was one of the five nominators of Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-MD, for majority leader, against Pelosi's choice, Rep. John Murtha, D-PA. Some might have suggested that if California's crops were so important to Cardoza, he should have kept his mouth shut.

It’s fun to imagine Cardoza in a panic, fearing the San Francisco women in power, rushing to the club of “real men in the center.” But, you can’t know that’s how it is happening. It could be that his special interest clients are dictating his every move and using their money in other venues to bring about advantageous results for themselves. After all, to them it is business, and they take business far more seriously than they take Cardoza. Pombo’s Ghost can pose as he wishes; meanwhile wine, dairy, cotton and development will make their deals where they think best. His aggressively Blue Dog strategy is a gamble. It may be a smart play or it may be a desperate leap. The nation moved politically to the left, so only time will tell.

Then comes the recent green paint job: starting with installing solar panels on his home roof (we wonder who paid for that), and talk about ethanol, etc.

"I'm just so committed to getting us out of the Middle East, with our dependence on foreign oil," he said. "We have to come up with alternatives."

While this sounds fruity and nutty enough for any wannabe chairman of a subcommittee on specialty crops, the nation prefers the direct approach of Pelosi, Lee, Woolsey and other mainstream Democrats: Get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Cardoza claims he is being “strong” posing in his imaginary middle, waiting until America is energy self-sufficient before ending imperial invasions of oil-rich countries.

More lipstick.

A powerful cabal of special interests in the northern San Joaquin Valley – Cardoza’s special interest clients – were able to arrange a free ride for him in this election. Residents of the 18th congressional district ought to ask themselves why a man as unpopular as Pombo’s Ghost represents them. Large landowners, developers, major agribusiness interests and the real estate financial and sales industries, along with UC Merced and the Great Valley Center, have ruled so absolutely that they think the region’s voters and the rest of the nation shared their agenda. In fact, even the voters of the district don’t share that agenda. For one glaring example, they thought the rest of the country hated the Endangered Species Act and loved developers, too. That isn’t even true in Cardoza’s district. So why is he representing the district? Did voters get sold a bill of goods here?

Rep. RichPAC Pombo, R-Tracy, was defeated because the opposition told the truth about him: he is corrupt, pro-Iraq War and radically anti-environmental. In the Sacramento area, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, crept back to Washington with less than 50 percent of the vote in his district, because the opposition told the truth about him: he is corrupt, pro-Iraq War and radically anti-environmental.

Cardoza is in the same pockets and, at least until a week or two, held the same views. His recent interviews with the regional press are lipstick. The intensity and quality of the collaboration and protection he enjoyed with Pombo can’t be replicated in this session of Congress, which will have a different agenda and some different faces, like Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, for example. McNerney and Cardoza belong to the same party in name only. McNerney, in two brutal races against Pombo, got no help from Cardoza at all. At least Pombo stood and eventually fell for something. Cardoza is now peddling the fiction that the gut-the-ESA bill he co-sponsored with Pombo was “too radical.”


When Pombo lost, Cardoza -- corrupt, scared of the Iraq War and radically anti-environmental – lost a lot of influence he had with corrupt rightwingers. However, Pombo’s Ghost and a gang of old-time Boll Weevils and bitter Republicans could be strong and mean enough to block anything good for the people or their environment in the 18th congressional district and elsewhere. If they want him to represent them, rather than the same-old special interests that want low wages and resource-destroying urban sprawl, they are going to have to fight for it. Right now, Pombo’s Ghost looks totally bought-and-sold by a few people with no interest in the people of the district or their environment, public health or safety.

Bill Hatch

Nov. 19, 2006
Stockton Record
Top Blue Dog looking to lead from the center
By Hank Shaw

SACRAMENTO - With Tracy Rep. Richard Pombo ousted, Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Merced has become the region's big dog in Congress.

Cardoza, a member of the new Democratic majority, is a leader of a conservative group of Democrats calling itself the Blue Dogs. Cardoza says he hopes the 44-member group can influence Congress from the center, much as he did as a member of the "Mod Squad" when he was an assemblyman in Sacramento.

Cardoza intends to lead the charge for California agriculture in next year's rewrite of the Farm Bill, a job left undone by the ousted Pombo. Like Pombo, Cardoza also wants to reform the Endangered Species Act, although not as radically as the Tracy Republican had wanted.

Cardoza's reach may extend beyond Pombo's by virtue of his position in the Blue Dogs, so named because they felt "choked blue" by what they saw as the dominant faction of their party's too-liberal ideology.

Newly expanded from 36 members to 44, the Blue Dogs were instrumental in getting Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, elected majority leader Thursday; Cardoza campaigned for Hoyer when Cardoza attended the University of Maryland in the early 1980s.

The group, whose focus centers on fiscal restraint in federal spending, is also expected to coordinate on budgetary matters with its Republican analog, the Tuesday Group. Combined, the two blocs represent 80 members of the 435-member House - enough to influence policy, if they stay united.

There's the rub: House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco is far more liberal than Cardoza or his colleagues, which include Rep. Ted Costa of Fresno and Ellen Tauscher of Alamo. And she has many like-minded colleagues: The Congressional Progressive Caucus has twice as many members as the Blue Dogs.

Cardoza says it will not be easy to drive policy, but then again, it was not when he and moderate Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg outmaneuvered their liberal colleagues from San Francisco and Los Angeles in Sacramento years ago.

"You have to be strong," Cardoza said. "Strong enough to stand up for what you believe in, because both sides will push you very hard. You have to be polite but immovable."

Chief among Cardoza's goals is a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance its budget; California and nearly every other state live under similar constraints, which forces lawmakers to live within their means.

Shorter-term moves will be to restore pay-as-you-go guidelines for federal spending, as well as rule changes making it tougher to increase the federal debt limit, insert parochial goodies into budget bills and hide votes on spending bills.

Nonfiscal goals include expanding incentives to study embryonic stem cells, a position the Blue Dogs and the Tuesday Group share with their progressive colleagues.

Personally, Cardoza wants to secure new incentives to open markets for California's "specialty crops," which in congressional parlance means everything except corn, soybeans, rice and wheat.

He may win himself a coveted spot in the Agriculture Committee as chairman of the subcommittee that oversees specialty crops. That determination is expected soon.

Cardoza also wants to craft a bill that would use federal tax receipts generated from fossil fuel production to expand renewable-energy research, such as solar, wind or biofuels. Cardoza just installed solar power at his home in Atwater.

"I'm just so committed to getting us out of the Middle East, with our dependence on foreign oil," he said. "We have to come up with alternatives."

One thing stands in Cardoza's and the Blue Dogs' path to influence: the assumption that the Democratic majority actually wants to get something done in the 110th Congress.

To do so, it must work closely with Republicans and President Bush or face filibusters in the Senate and a veto in the White House. Governing over the next two years must come from the center.

But governing is only one of the things Congress does. It also prepares itself for biannual elections, and 2008 is likely to be a humdinger. Several congressional seats won by Democrats this year are already being targeted by the GOP, including the 11th District won by Rep.-elect Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

And then there is the presidential election, which will be for an open seat with no heir apparent for the first time in a generation.

Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney said he expects Congress to bog down into dysfunction rapidly. He said it is far more likely that Democrats will be happier sending legislation for Bush to veto than to accommodate him and his fellow Republicans on matters of importance.

"I am dubious that this will be a productive Congress," Pitney said. "I think there's going to be a lot of posturing."

Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Hank Shaw at (916) 441-4078 or

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