Environment

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

Submitted: May 31, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the government buy up agricultural land at development prices;

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

Continue strong subsidy support for cotton and rice;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merced public meets a WalMart empty T-shirt

Submitted: May 26, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is this enhancing Merced?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” T-shirt replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T-shirt again referred to the coming EIR.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Blockhead Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley

Submitted: May 23, 2006

The newest “vision” for the San Joaquin Valley, according to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, which graced us with its prestigious presence last week in Merced, is composed of four elements:

· rapid urbanization;
· destruction of local, state and federal environmental law, regulation and resource-agency enforcement;
· demand for state and federal public funds to pay for the infrastructure caused by the on-going speculative housing boom;
· demand for a “business-friendly regulatory climate” (including maintaining low wages) to entice state, national and global corporate investment in a new “economic engine” for the San Joaquin Valley.

The last element is urged with all the sincerity and passion middle-aged bureaucrats are capable of, because, of course, the Valley is incapable of creating its own economic engine from its own enormous capital from its own state, national and global corporations, built on low wages, a large pool of unemployed, illegal immigration, as well as an enormous amount of hard work, savvy business management, superb marketing campaigns, total control of elected officials, and basic agricultural and engineering ingenuity (the best of it without academic credentials).

In short, the Valley “vision” remains what it has always been: nostalgia for the funding of federal and state water projects that made it great. When you add subsidized water to a huge alluvial fan, hard working, intelligent farmers and ranchers from Europe, the Midwest and the Middle East, low-paid seasonal workers from Oklahoma to Okinawa to Michoacan to the Punjab and elsewhere, Presto! You get the best agricultural economy in the world, which just naturally attracts every business and political force in the nation to try to suck it dry and bleed it to death, currently represented by cartels that monopolize pesticides, fertilizers and seeds, coupled with foreign trade policies that expose Valley agricultural production to competition from every lower wage agricultural economy in the world, including some, like Texas, right here at home. Chinese cotton and genetically modified organisms are perhaps the two most pressing issues, but there are others. The incredible ability of Valley farmers to produce has been the source of great prosperity (for some producers) but also a source of great economic pain. Excellent economic arguments exist that the Valley’s curse is overproduction. A corollary to that, in political circles, given the volume of production and its dependency on foreign markets, trade policies and subsidies, is that the Valley has never been adequately represented in Congress. Our 250 crops fare badly in Congress against the basic grains of the Mississippi Valley states. Our creativity, our diversity and our ingenuity are our curse. Yet, even there, in an odd, backhanded way, we benefit, for surely the dumping of Midwest corn in Mexico since NAFTA (1993) has driven hundreds of thousands of able Mexican farmers off their land and flung many of them against the border walls and fences.

The Valley agricultural economy has never been stable. The kind of dynamism and genius that created it is, frankly, not stable. It’s quirky. It’s a boom and bust deal. After a season of plenty, disaster. Within living memory the Boswell Corporation gave its workers a year’s paid vacation when Tulare Lake flooded. Although it is hard to imagine that the Miller-Lux Company would have been beneficent, it is harder to get a descendant of its employees to speak ill of it. In the years before the UFW went bankrupt economically and organizationally, how many farmers that did their own tractor work and sprayed their own crops denied their businesses were built on the backs of their Mexican workers? How many who could not abide the union hiring hall paid union wages to non-union workers? How many workers who could not abide the hiring hall worked out of some loyalty to the grower as well as the wages? The thing between workers and growers only becomes that abstract concept, Labor, when some people work in the field and others don't.

But now, there is a new “vision” for the Valley: the developer’s vision of the Valley as real estate upstream in the state’s water supply system. It’s a classic business con game, built on floating investment looking for a home, and it is growing increasingly more tenuous as the national economy sours. Perhaps this spring the assault on every natural resource, including the agricultural, in the Valley, by developers and their bureaucratic lackeys appears merely ridiculous; by next year it will be so absurd we might not get another Partnership dog-and-pony show, trotting out local and state leadership whose glamour is fading by the week, along with the Hun’s chances for reelection.

Local officials came whining before the Partnership panel, crying poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, domestic violence (Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s staffer’s arrest on that charge was politely not mentioned), immigrant populations, the unfairness of government to the San Joaquin Valley, our wretched state – so much worse than Appalachia, how the Valley groans under the impact of cruel, heartless environmental law employed by demons in human form who aim, devilishly, only to harm the half dozen or so big developers in the region and to humiliate their army of bought and sold elected officials and sycophantic staff, who engineer the destruction of law and regulation.

Fact – to refute the plaintive wanderings of the former UC Merced planning director: UC railroaded the process of state and federal environmental review. The deal was run out of Gov. Gray Davis’ office, an honest political payoff for an honest political service – delivery of the Valley vote in 1998, principally as a result of the brilliant staff work out of former Rep. Gary Condit’s office. Condit was the first California congressman to back Davis in the primary. Together they developed a Valley strategy to pick up the necessary votes to win the General Election. Condit’s price was UC Merced (in his district). Davis delivered. Straight political deal. The only problem was that it ran roughshod over a number of environmental laws, regulations and the agencies charged with enforcing them. Smith echoed with perfect pitch the huge Merced Whine about these laws, regulations and agencies. Only Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, can do it better, when he is in full cry about the Anguish of His Contributors.

How dare members of the local community sue the University of California, this glorious project with such widespread public support! Perhaps we are having a senior moment, but we cannot remember when the public was ever asked to vote on UC Merced.

Normally, we would have expected the Shrimp Slayer to have been at the Partnership event. But the vice chair of the Partnership is San Joaquin County’s largest developer, who last year threw a joint fundraiser for the Shrimp Slayer and Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, shortly before the demented duo introduced their “bipartisan” bill to gut the Endangered Species Act. Rather than face this political awkwardness among his constituency, aware of the beating Pombo is currently taking from Pete McCloskey, Cardoza is in hiding south of his district. He is probably holed up in the Fresno offices of Westlands Water District, planning how to wreck the settlement negotiations between the Friant Water Users Authority and the Natural Resources Defense Council over the thorny problem of how much water can continue to flow to eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties after a federal judge has mandated that the San Joaquin River must actually have water in it – even in the middle of Fresno County, where it hasn’t had water in it for 50 years.

The Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the current governor's pale attempt to replicate the pale Valley Economic Summit Gov. Davis tried (once), had no new ideas. State leadership and its stakeholding panel -- the chairwoman was secretary of CalTrans and some other agencies, the secretary of food and agriculture, various representatives of “the private sector,” and assorted local elected officials – had no new ideas. They had a few new words for business as usual, including “partnership” and “blueprint,” for unregulated urban growth.

That, coupled with the local "one-voice" whining for more political power and the disgusting begging for public funds, made this event a milestone in the political grotesque, perhaps the last milestone before the cliff is reached.

Or else.

Or else the agricultural economy of the Valley – universally vilified by the local whiners and the panel (except the secretary of food and agriculture, who noted that the agricultural economy is still – miraculously and most inconveniently – GROWING) – will continue to limp along, feeding us, housing us somewhat, providing the taxes that will support what education exists, and may, in some way utterly unknown to the political classes and their developer funders hungry for farms and ranches to turn into subdivisions, may just get us through the concocted economic crisis portrayed by the whining local bureaucrats to the sympathetic hearts of the state bureaucrats so deeply buried in the pockets of developers that the spare change in those pockets seems like manna from Heaven.

The plight of Valley public education is truly horrible, if only one lacks any historical perspective on the problem. Valley public education has always been what it is, moreorless the same as public education anywhere, and often better than in most places. I would still rather have a child of mine in public schools in Merced than in any major California city. There is a quality about our helplessly diverse immigrant population of children here in the Central Valley that has always inspired the best kind of teaching, the most quixotic commitments among the core of real teachers that ever make a difference, because these kids manage complex acts of peace, hope and harmony so far beyond the so-called adults who allegedly lead us.

The city will always outscore the Valley on city-designed academic tests. But, until recently at least, its entry-level jobs have provided youth and immigrants a chance to learn through work that has far out-stripped the learning possibilities of urban youth. We should build on that experience, not constantly run it down.

Yes, educational administrators are correct to ask for more money. That is their job, but only because they refuse to stand up and openly, consistently denounce state policies, encrypted in SB 50, that despoil public education in rapidly urbanizing regions like this one. Better than begging, our school administrators should openly, consistently, and simply, denounce SB 50, the filthy deal between the developers and the Legislature behind it, and the local deals between developers and politicians here and now. On behalf of our children, we should stand without equivocation, as so many Central Valley teachers stand, without equivocation, before pupils they need to teach and often do teach. Begging and wheedling before a blockheaded panel, whose formation is nothing but a political stunt, doesn't represent the tradition of Valley public education its administrators seem to have forgotten how to be proud of.

We have a good tradition of public education in the Valley. To see it on its knees, as the local superintendent presented it, was the ugliest thing about this ridiculous hearing. But that ugliness goes to the fundamental point at stake in the spring assault on Valley resources, human, agricultural and environmental: a century of unexamined pro-growth-at-any-cost state policies has impoverished us all. It is ruining our water supply and quality; it has already ruined our air quality; and it seeks with all the zeal of bought and sold politicians and their appointed staffs, to destroy our environmental law, regulation and resource agency enforcement of those laws and regulations.

This is wrong and contrary to the spirit of Valley public education and the families and neighborhoods behind it.

UC Merced was mentioned frequently as the savior of absolutely everything. Yet, other reports indicate not so many college applicants want to come to UC Merced.

A suggestion (from a comment made by the Los Banos city manager): close UC Merced. It was never anything but a boondoggle for a few land owners, financial institutions and real estate speculators anyway. Convert its facilities into a first class vocational training institute, on the model of the one in Klamath Falls, OR. Train students in the skills of manufacturing. If they can’t get jobs in the US due to continuing corrupt, off-shoring policies, they will probably be able to do well in Korea, Taiwan, Mexico or elsewhere. These skills will produce stable incomes. Perhaps, if the Valley “leadership” awakes from its dreams of quick bucks from real estate, it may even see the potential in such a course, if for no other reason because it is within the culture and tradition of the Valley – AS IT IS – to educate people in practical industries.

The core of any industrial economy and the means by which that economy transcends its last generation lies in an educated industrial workforce. Something has gone terribly wrong with the institutional culture of the University of California. Perhaps one too many win-win, public-private partnerships has erased from its institutional memory the idea that it is a "public research" institution, that its purpose is to serve the California public's higher educational needs rather than exploit the medical research opportunities provided by its being the "engine of growth" in the worst polluted air basin in the nation. The Valley doesn't want to be the UC laboratory for lung disease anymore than we want our politicians to solve air pollution by suspending air quality law to allow for more UC-stimulated urban growth.

So, we propose that, rather than UC Merced educating some class of technologists better developed at any of its other campuses, we close its campus and reopen it as the best vocational training center in the nation, producing the top machinists, tool and die makers, mold makers, auto and farm equipment engineers – in general, a class of brilliant, forward looking people who can build very complex, useful things with their hands and help California catch up with the rest of the industrialized world in building cleaner industrial processes. Sometimes, academic engineers and scientists are required in this process, but without the people who can build the new equipment, giving constant feedback in the process of invention, innovation does not occur.

I make this suggestion because it is harmonious with the genius of the Valley. This is the training that will build the next best post-harvest handling shed. Someone from this school will build a thresher that will not kill every ground-nesting bird in its path. Here, a student will be presented with the challenge of how to make local streams both habitable to wildlife and adequate to carry increasing flows and she will solve the puzzle.

Here, invention will occur because the Valley, as always, will attract devoted teachers and eager students. The Valley itself – socially, economically, environmentally – remains a huge, beautiful puzzle, an enormous challenge for people with the right kind of education, stressing the practical, hands-on solutions to concrete puzzles.

UC, lamentably, is not that institution. UC Merced was and remains a land deal. Of course, the Regents and the chancellor, could never ever admit they were taken for such a wild political railroad ride. This, too, is our genius. We have always had to be better at politics than our urban cousins and we have always risen to the challenge.

Why?

Because agriculture is always more complex than urban reality. Political leaders from agricultural areas must always both know their own economy and the urban economy. Urban politicians indulge themselves in the illusion that they do not have to know agricultural economics.

It’s complicated.

What the Partnership and every other developer-driven economic model coming at us says is that reducing farmland to its real estate value is simple and the complexity of a living agricultural system -- however mangled by agribusiness conglomeration it is – is messy and dys-economic.

To this, if you are a Valley person, you can only reply with deleted expletives. We will stand behind our rich, incredibly diverse population and our incredibly rich, diverse agricultural production. We will say NO to local and state leadership bought and sold by developers wishing to make the Central Valley the next, upstream, San Fernando Valley. We will oppose a "new" economy based on selling the most productive agricultural land in the world to outside real estate speculators. That isn't economics; that is just ruin.

Statistically, our immigrants look poor. In their hearts they aren’t poor. In their hearts they know what real poverty is – learning takraw in a Thai refugee camp, running for your life from a federale, a government that sold your village, the sheer stagnation of island living.

We have here in the Valley a unique population composed of some of the strongest, most adventuresome people in the world, people who stood up, escaped, lived, thrived, carried on, survived miseries and oppressions our begging bureaucrats will never understand and so will never realize is the only real source of capital there ever was.

The entire panel of the Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley should have adjorned, after their dismal hearing, to Applegate Park to observe Hmongs throw spinning tops. Although they would not have understood the language or how to play the game, those with some residual sensitivity could not have failed to catch the feeling.

The top spinners have no money to pay blockhead partnership. Only the developers can really support partners in the style to which they have become accustomed. A pity. The Hmong top spinners could have reminded the partners of human dignity, a nice palate cleanser after a morning listening to local officials begging for sewer funds to accommodate irresponsible growth. But the partners chose to dine by invitation to their own kind only.

"What are the top 3 priorities for action that will improve the future economic prosperity and quality of life for the San Joaquin Valley?" the Partnership asked.

The public, invited for short comments at the end of the session, replied in part, as follows:

Our "leaders" are dimwits. Don't listen to them. We don't. They have no ideas but urban growth. Their minds are like salad oil slipping off the lip of a plate, as oily as the latest "balancing" of antagonistic, mutually exclusive goals, greased up in new terms every fresh funding season. Our leaders want everything but to make real choices. The public, not our bought and sold empty suits, should have been first, not last, to speak at this hearing. But, the manage that would have required real political leadership on the part of the panel, which has none.

There should be a moritorium on growth until general plans are updated.

There should be a permanent outlawing of the corrupt practice of developers indemnifying land-use authorities against legal challenges arising from their irresponsible, bought and sold land-use decisions.

We should preserve agriculture and wildlife habitat to allow agriculture and wildlife the opportunity to reach their next stages of evolution.

We should develop our enormous human capital rather than allow UC to use it for its public-private, win-win research projects.

We are sick and tired of the "one voice" of local shills for outside speculators. Why is the second point on their agenda always keeping wages low if they wish to develop the Valley? When will they ever awaken from the dream of the fast real estate deal and stand up for their own people, the agricultural productivity of this land, policies that will improve rather than worsen our air and water? When will they quit automatically selling our environment and our workforce on the cheap? When will they find within themselves some other value than simple money greed?

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Privatizing US Fish & Wildlife Service biological opinions

Submitted: May 20, 2006

From Florida comes the news that the US Fish & Wildlife are now asking developer consultants to prepare biological opinions on endangered species. It's another win/win, public/private partnership, except for the Public Trust. In fact, the Badlands editorial staff has yet to see a WWPPP where the public or wildlife were winners.

"To speed things up (due to our heavy workload) we are asking the consultant for each project that adversely affects panthers to prepare a BO (biological opinion) based on a template BO that we will send you," federal biologist John Wrublik wrote in the e-mail to RaeAnn Boylan, a consultant for a Lee County project to widen a road through panther habitat.

Predators and Protectors
Defanging the Endangered Species Act
By ALAN FARAGO

May 19, 2006
http://www.counterpunch.com/farago05192006.html

It's always front-page news when an alligator kills a human. The same would be true for a bear mauling or an attack by a mountain lion or shark.

We are hard-wired for horror when a top predator kills one of us. It happens rarely, but when it does, television cameras spark with an impulse older than lights on a Christmas tree.

At the same time, the panthers or gators we may have hunted down after dragging a person into a canal are also on a thousand bronze statues, representing the highest order of strength, endurance and accomplishment.

Protect or eradicate? Honor or revile?

Decades ago, Congress decided that saving species from extinction is the right thing to do. The federal Endangered Species Act's underlying value is to protect the diversity of life. In fact, only a few endangered species are top predators.

Protecting key species -- such as the Florida panther or American crocodile -- should, in principle, protect habitats the species need to survive. A particular economic activity that affects habitat may trigger the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. In particular, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to review the proposed activity through a formal biological opinion, written by staff biologists. The biological opinion should address the threat to the listed species based on science. That's the principal.

Not in the state of Florida, however, where biological opinions are authored, at least in part, by the same developers, miners and economic interests seeking to block an adverse finding in court.

The story was reported last week by journalist Craig Pittman in the St. Petersburg Times. "To speed things up (due to our heavy workload) we are asking the consultant for each project that adversely affects panthers to prepare a BO (biological opinion) based on a template BO that we will send you," federal biologist John Wrublik wrote in the e-mail to RaeAnn Boylan, a consultant for a Lee County project to widen a road through panther habitat. Wrublik wrote in his e-mail that adapting the "template" to fit various projects destroying panther habitat should be "pretty straightforward," requiring only some "deleting and inserting" of information "where appropriate."

In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was not too swamped with paperwork to fire an 18-year employee, biologist Andy Eller, one week after he had written a biological opinion against Mirasol, a development proposed for panther habitat in Collier County.

Eller's case quickly became a national cause celebre, an example of intense political pressure on science -- one of the most egregious legacies of the Bush White House.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (1), an organization that supports whistleblowers who work for government agencies, said about scientists like Eller, "The essential dilemma is that they are paid to conduct defensible scientific reviews but face possible termination if they accurately report what they have found."

An endless stream of money has been spent by special interests to declaw, defang and decommission the Endangered Species Act, one of the most important laws protecting America's natural heritage.

Mirasol is the project of a West Virginia coal-mine owner whose advocacy in Congress for mountaintop removal to mine coal may have led to expectations how the conflict between the environment and the force of progress would resolve in Florida.

Recently, I happened to see a dead top predator. It was early evening on an edge road in south Miami-Dade County. Only minutes before my arrival, a panther crossing the road had been struck by a car.

I pulled up in front of what I took to be a lifeless dog. Locked in the headlights, it was one of Florida's premier endangered species, dead in the road, blood congealing on its broken jaw and torn skin.

Nearby, a rock miner is seeking permits to build a small city of 6,000 homes in an area significantly impacting wetlands.

Today, Florida is seeking to wrestle control of wetlands jurisdiction from the federal government.

In 2005, Andy Eller was reinstated to his job at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the agency admitted fault in distorting science related to panther habitat near the proposed Mirasol development.

For risking his career, Eller received an award from the Everglades Coalition.

And over the weekend, the alligator that took the life of a Broward woman was hauled from the canal not far from the tragic accident and shot. Two more people have been killed by alligators in the past week, despite the fact that attacks on humans by alligators are exceedingly rare.

So far this year, six panthers have been killed on Florida roads.

What conflicting and contradictory impulses carry us on our brief journey?

Alan Farago of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com.
--------------------------
Notes:

(1) Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
http://www.peer.org

PEER is a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, land managers and other professionals dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER’s environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

Public employees are a unique force working for environmental enforcement. In the ever-changing tide of political leadership, these front-line employees stand as defenders of the public interest within their agencies and as the first line of defense against the exploitation and pollution of our environment. Their unmatched technical knowledge, long-term service and proven experiences make these professionals a credible voice for meaningful reform.

PEER works nation-wide with government scientists, land managers, environmental law enforcement agents, field specialists and other resource professionals committed to responsible management of America’s public resources. Resource employees in government agencies have unique responsibilities as stewards of the environment. PEER supports those who are courageous and idealistic enough to seek a higher standard of environmental ethics and scientific integrity within their agency. Our constituency represents one of the most crucial and viable untapped resources in the conservation movement.

Objectives of PEER

Organize a broad base of support among employees within local, state and federal resource management agencies.

Monitor natural resource management agencies by serving as a "watch dog" for the public interest.

Inform the administration, Congress, state officials, media and the public about substantive environmental issues of concern to PEER members.

Defend and strengthen the legal rights of public employees who speak out about issues concerning natural resource management and environmental protection.

Provide free legal assistance if and when necessary.

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Below the tipping point

Submitted: May 17, 2006

This year’s Great Valley Center conference was unusually duplicitous, even by the Center’s relaxed standards. Its title, “At the tipping point,” contrasted to the presentations throughout the two days, creating a sense of cognitive dissonance attributable, no doubt, to the Center’s recent merger with the University of California.

The conference poster invited its viewers to look upward at a map of mid-California projected on the sky above a tightrope walker the soles of whose shoes were also above us. I found no one at the conference willing to think about what this poster might mean.

The conference covered every aspect of urban growth but how to slow it down. One participant mentioned the term, “carrying capacity,” once, but the panel thought he was speaking in a Native American language and forgave him for it in the interest of multi-cultural harmony.

The only two resource agencies visible at the conference were the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the state Department of Water Resources. The San Joaquin Valley was recently designated the worst polluted air basin in the US, but not one session addressed this issue, however there were sessions on mass transit, integrating land use and transportation decision making, bikes and walks, and “Greenstop: California’s first sustainable highway rest area”. (Caltrans, not a resource agency, was one of the conference’s “Silver Sponsors.”)

Water was a big topic at the conference and Tim Quinn, vice president of Metropolitan Water District, was a featured speaker and session presenter. Quinn filled the Valley audience with a sense of trust and confidence that Southern California was not interested in Valley water. Session topics included how water will shape the Valley’s future, water transfers (the debate between North and South), water quality, and prioritizing agricultural conservation easements (a UCB report, using cutting edge mapping technology to show that ag easements should be put on flood plains near levees to prevent more subdivisions – because the state has to pay if the homes are flooded).

Growth sessions included:

· Challenges and opportunities for master-planned communities
· Growing rural economies with entrepreneurial community colleges
· What every planner should know about air quality
· After the flush: Reclaimed water strategies
· Sustainable housing
· Green building: A chance for the Valley
· Timber! Modern forestry policy, practices and wildlife
· Green energy powerhouse
· Affordability in today’s housing market
· The man from Brazil, Jaime Lerner (a feature speaker, mayor of a large Brazilian city, who spoke on lower-tech mass transit)
· Land use and planning for dummies
· The Valley blueprint project: A regional approach
· Population challenges
· Wow! Look at Valley downtowns
· Wireless for rural communities
· A featured speech by former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros

Agriculture was also considered:

· Gardens as the center of a community
· Sustainable food moves beyond a niche market
· Alternative fuels: What is the opportunity?

There was also, as always with the Center, an emphasis on how to co-opt local leaders who might pop up here and there to disturb the smooth transition from San Joaquin to San Fernando:

· Grassroots lobbying – how, who, when?
· Promatoras: More than community health workers
· Strategies for engaging rural community leaders
· E Pluribus Unum: Multi-ethnic collaboration for community action

The water discussion, while at times pretending broader perspectives, was continually dragged down into the whirlpool of the Friant lawsuit. On the second morning, a group of state Assembly members – Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto), Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), Roger Neillo (R-Sacramento) and Juan Arambula (D-Fresno) – gave a spirited performance of the point of view of Fresno (City and County) and eastern Tulare and Kern counties’ farmers. The Friant Water Users Authority point of view was also ably represented in every session on water during the conference. When one participant of the session on transfers asked if some of the Friant-Kern water eventually ends up “going over the hill,” he was directly contradicted by Quinn, the representative of DWR and several Tulare farmers. Quinn also said that water would not be a constraint on future Southern California growth. An urbane, sophisticated man, he also mentioned global warming, noting, however, that Metropolitan lacked adequate data on it.

This GVC conference was notable in the experience of frequent attendees of these conferences over the years for its embrace of the principle, Growth Is Inevitable and an Exciting Challenge, and its evident amnesia about agriculture – Valley Farmers Are Large Landowners. Gone was any lip service to agriculture or any awareness or wildlife species and habitat. A few sessions on medical topics substituted for any sense of environmentally caused diseases. The conference seemed to some of us to be part and parcel of what we are calling the Springtime Assault on Valley Natural Resources.

The most offensive aspect of the conference from a social and economic justice perspective was the recognition that two cultures – Anglo and Hispanic – dominate, and that the Anglo culture will get rich off development while the Hispanic is encouraged to develop Third World methods of dealing with political disenfranchisement, educational disadvantage, and health problems arising from environmental degradation. If the Hispanic leaders do not challenge development, the Center will do its best to see that some funding trickles down to local Hispanic leaders. This strategy displays the decades of partisan political experience among top executives at the Center and a heavy dose of UC flak.

The best session was E Pluribus Unum: Multi-ethnic collaboration for community action, an interesting dog-and-pony show, led by Dr. Isao Fujimoto of UCD, displaying a new generation of Valley urban minority youth, discussing strategies for dealing with ethnic gang conflicts, cultural respect, poverty, school, housing and organizing, using tools established in many cases decades ago by a long list of organizations – from Alinksy’s to the Friends Service Committee’s – to help Appalachia del Oeste. Notably missing was any sense of union organizing.

Those of us impressed by UC Merced’s drive to establish a research medical school in the Valley look forward soon to studies like: Differential Rates of Asthma among Children of Anglo-Saxon, African-American, Native American, Hmong, Laotian, Miao, Cambodian, North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Mestizo and Mixteco Descent. We think, if GVC continues its superb work in minority communities, that it will be longer before we see an E Pluribus Unum Workers’ Alliance Against Air Pollution That Is Killing Our Children and Grandparents.

Finally, noting the food served at this GVC conference from an historical perspective, frequent attendees wondered whether the Center was losing funds or just losing interest in holding conferences.

The conference’s top sponsors included: The California Endowment, David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Gerry N. Kamilos, LLC, AT&T, SJVAPCD, Caltrans, Castle & Cooke, Citibank, Comcast, P G & E, Sierra Health Foundation, Pacific Union Homes, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, KVIE, and UC Merced.

Event sponsors included a number of development consultants, Chevron, Western States Petroleum Association, Caltrans, Diesel Technology Forum, Kaiser Permanente, USDA Rural Development, HUD, several utilities, CSU Chico, some green energy companies, and others.

Perhaps sponsors such as these don’t want the Valley public to gather together and break good bread anymore. So many of them, particularly developers and their consultants (with lenders, realtors and landowners standing behind them) maintain a uniformly hostile attitude to public participation in the environmental, health and safety reviews of their projects that grossly affect the quality of life of the Valley public. But, as we learned again at the conference, experts hired by special interests always know what is best for unspecial us. Some of the Center’s top sponsors are grand philanthropists of the planning process – sincerely contributing to the campaigns of elected officials that make local land-use decisions approving the philanthropists’ own projects. This charity even extends to legal indemnification funds that protect the municipalities and counties in case members of the public sue the officials for land-use decisions that might have been influenced more by developer philanthropy than by thoughts of the Public Trust or the common good.

Nevertheless, some resourceful members of the Valley public repaired to a nearby eatery for a lively “breakout session” of their own over good food and wine on the evening of the first day of the conference.

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Grassland Water District letter to county Board of Supervisors re: amendment policies during the General Plan update process

Submitted: May 14, 2006

The following letter was submitted by attorneys for the Grassland Water District and Grassland Resource Conservation District to the Merced County Board of Supervisors for its May 2 hearing on General Plan Amendment policies and procedures during the General Plan Update process. The letter has been transcribed from a facsimile. – Bill Hatch

Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo
Attorneys at Law
1225 8th Street, Suite 550
Sacramento, California 95814-4810
Telephone: (916) 444-6201
Facsimile: (916) 444-6209
E-mail: omeserve@adamsbroadwell.com

May 1, 2006

VIA FACSIMILE AND U.S. MAIL

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, CA 95340

Re: General Plan Amendment Policies and Procedures During General Plan Update Process

Dear Chairperson Nelson and Members of the Board:

This firm represents the Grassland Water District and the Grassland Resource Conservation District (collectively, “GWD”). GWD has been following the County’s progress toward updating its General Plan, and the issue of how land use planning should proceed during the General Plan update process. At the Board’s April 11, 2006 meeting, a detailed discussion occurred regarding possible approaches to new project applications submitted during the General Plan Update process. Additional options for the Board’s consideration are included in the staff report for Item 55 on the Board’s April 2, 2006 agenda.

Generally, GWD supports actions by the Board that slow or halt the conversion of agricultural or open space lands located in the vicinity of GWD’s service are to urban and other uses. GWD supports a temporary moratorium on Community Specific Plan (“CSP”) adoptions during the General Plan Update process with respect to the Community of Volta, in particular (Option 3A). GWD also supports reasonable measures to slow or stop conversion of agricultural land during the General Plan update process (Option 3B). GWD also believes that the Board should not allow agricultural subdivision applications to be approved during the General Plan Update process. Such temporary measures are appropriate and would protect the public health, safety and welfare of the residents of the County while the important planning processes are completed. (See Gov. Code, Sec. 65858.)

Background Information

GWD contains over 60,000 acres of privately-owned and managed wetlands located in Merced County. GWD lands, in combination with state and federal refuges and other privately-held wetlands, comprise the approximately 230,000 acre Grassland Ecological Area (“GEA”) designated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”). These lands are managed as habitat for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wildlife.

The wetlands of western Merced County are a critical component of the remaining Central Valley wetlands and constitute the most important waterfowl wintering area on the pacific Flyway. These wetlands are acknowledged by the Merced County General Plan to be highly valuable wildlife and vegetation habitats, and international treaties have recognized the habitat as a resource of international significance. The Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention) recently designated the GEA as a “Wetland of International Importance”. The GEA is one of only four such sites in California, and twenty-two sites in the country.

A study commissioned by the Packard Foundation, the Great Valley Center and GWD in 2001 found that wetlands within the GEA provide substantial direct economic contributions to the local and regional economies. The GEA receives over 300,000 user visits per year for hunting, fishing and non-consumptive wildlife recreation. Recreational and other activities related to habitat values within the GEA contribute $41 million per year to the Merced County economy, and account for approximately 800 jobs. Agricultural lands within the GEA also account for approximately five percent (5%) of Merced County’s $1.45 billion agricultural economy.

Community Plans Should Not Be Adopted or Updated During the General Plan Update Process

GWD’s concerns relating to adoption and updates of CSPs stem primarily from a long-term concern about the small, unincorporated community of Volta. Located about four miles northwest of Los Banos, Volta is adjacent to GEA, the Volta Wildlife Management Area, and other agricultural lands that provide a buffer to these sensitive wetland areas. Encroachment of incompatible uses associated with CSPs into areas near protected wetland habitats undermines both the long-term viability of the GEA and the core habitat values GWD and other entities are working to protect.

In the 1970’s, Volta was designated by the County as a Specific Urban Development Plan (“SUDP”) area. (General Plan, at p. I-7.) As a small SUDP area, the limited residential and service commercial land uses are oriented toward meeting the needs of the local rural population. (General Plan, at p. I – 11.) No Community Specific Plan (“CSP”) has ever been adopted.

Volta has been the subject of numerous proposals for large-scale residential subdivisions and has long been of concern to state and federal resource management agencies, wetland and waterfowl advisory organizations, the Merced County Farm Bureau, the City of Los Banos, GWD and other public and private entities. GWD has submitted numerous comments on other proposed projects in and near Volta, including Wilkinson Ranch, Volterra, and most recently, the Areias subdivision. These projects, had they been implemented, would have been incompatible with the long-term protection of nearby ecologically sensitive areas and the existing rural character of the Volta community.

Given that it is adjacent to GEA resources, GWD supports the redesignation of Volta to an Agricultural Service Center (“ASC”), as suggested by the current General Plan. (General Plan, at pp. I-11, VII-27.) Primarily, this is because further development of Volta would create conflicts with existing agricultural and open space uses. (General Plan, at p. I-11.) According to the General Plan, redesignation to ASC is appropriate for areas with the following characteristics: (1) lacking a full range of services; (2) stable or declining populations; (3) isolated location; and (4) agricultural service orientation to existing land uses. (General Plan, at pp. VII-27 to 28.) Volta meets all of these criteria; thus, ASC is a more appropriate designation for this rural area.

The current SUDP designation for Volta is inappropriate and will lead to encroachment of incompatible land uses into a sensitive area not suited for urban development. Therefore, GWD believes that adoption of a temporary moratorium on CSP adoptions and updates during the General Plan Update process is appropriate.

Agricultural Subdivisions Should Not Proceed During the General Plan Update Process

GWD also recommends deferring General Plan amendments that facilitate conversion from agricultural to non-agricultural uses in and near the GEA. None of the current options under consideration by the Board directly address subdivision of agricultural land (“ag subdivisions”). While Option 3B would limit approval of General Plan amendments from agricultural to non-agricultural uses (which GWD generally supports where such subdivisions would impact GEA resources), it is not applicable to ag subdivisions, which do not typically involve a change in land use designation.

Converting land currently in use for farming or grazing to ranchettes is incompatible with the long-term viability of the biological resources of the GEA. Furthermore, agricultural activities around the GEA help buffer the area for incompatible urban uses. According to a recently released report by the American Farmland Trust, nineteen percent (19%) of all developed land in Merced County is outside of city spheres of influence.
(http://www.farmland.org/reports/futureisnow/merced3.html)
Additionally, fifty-nine percent (59%) of all development within the 1990 to 2000 time period occurred in High Quality Farmland. (Ibid.)

GWD has commented on numerous ag subdivisions over the years because of the grave danger fragmentation of viable farmland and grazing land poses to the GEA and other natural resource values. Though the “parcelization of large holdings is discouraged: under the current General Plan, numerous ag subdivisions continue to be approved. (Agricultural Chapter, Objective 2. B.) GWD encourages the Board to also include provisions in its General Plan update procedures to limit approval of ag subdivisions and to ultimately adopt long-term policies that would effectively prevent further fragmentation of farmland and open space in and around the GEA.

Conclusion

GWD is participating in an ad hoc advisory group formed to advise local entities on Grassland-related issues. This group is called the Grasslands Resources Regional Working Group (“GRRWG”), and includes representatives from GWD, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Fish and Game and Ducks Unlimited. Through the GRRWG and individually, GWD will be participating in the General Plan update process to ensure that appropriate protections are implemented to protect the incredibly valuable wetland resources within the Merced County Grasslands. We look forward to participating in the County’s planned focus groups in the near future.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the information presented in this letter. Thank you for considering GWD’s perspective on these important land use planning issues.

Very truly yours,

Osha R. Meserve

cc: Robert Lewis
William Nicholson
Grassland Water District Board of Directors
Grassland Resource Conservation District Board of Directors
Don Marciochi

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Pomboza seen splitting apart

Submitted: May 13, 2006

People in the 18th congressional district, represented by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, ought to wake up and take notice of what is happening in the adjacent 11th congressional district, represented by RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy.

Defenders of Wildlife, a national environmental group, commissioned a poll of 402 likely voters in the 11th CD. The pollster found that 52 percent would prefer to vote for someone other than Pombo in the fall general election. "Someone else" is about all the Democrats have to offer, but it may be enough, if Pombo survives the primary.

The damage to the front end of the Pomboza is being done by former Rep. Pete McCloskey, 78, a co-author of the Endangered Species Act, which Pombo and Cardoza have been trying to destroy for the benefit of local developers, landowners, financial institutions, realtors and their relatives and friends.

The idea that two of the most obvious tools of rampant growth ever to hit Congress should have the power to change a widely respected and necessary federal law on behalf of a crowd of regional contributors (and, of course, UC Merced) proved to be a bit much for state and national environmental organizations, now busily canvassing precincts in Pombo's district.

Learned academic authority suggests that the poll might not be accurate because, after all, Defenders did it. This misses the point entirely: Defenders is there and willing to do the poll; that environmental groups have identified Pombo as the top political target in the nation.

What is policy for the groups is more personal for McCloskey, who at times says he is fighting for the "soul" of the Republican Party -- to rid it of greedy, stupid, rightwing, corrupt, environment destroying, House-rules destroying knuckleheads. He's fighting against a wing of the Republican Party who came to believe, like officials in dictatorships believe, that their personal wealth is the meaning of politics. While environmentalists have been knocking on doors and passing out leaflets, McCloskey has been attacking Pombo at every intersection in the district where he can raise a grassroots audience. His campaign has lit a thousand fires in hundreds of places. We'll see how the wildfire spread on primary Election Day, in the only poll that counts.

Pombo already knows he's in the worst fight of his life and has called on Vice President Dick Cheney to come raise money for him. But the rounds still last 3 minutes and nobody can help him in the ring with McCloskey. The people always enjoy the spectacle of a bully getting whupped. And people keep disappearing from Pombo’s corner: Libby, DeLay, Abramoff, and now, reportedly, Karl Rove, the best political cut man in the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, the rear end of the Pomboza, like the well known rodeo clown act in which two clowns play the part of one ass, is turning around and running in the opposite direction -- down to Fresno to hobnob with Westlands Water District and three other south Valley congressmen interested in throwing a monkey wrench in the confidential settlement negotiations between the Friant Water Users Authority and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Federal court has ruled that the San Joaquin River must flow; therefore the Friant-Kern Canal cannot flow as much as it has.

Shrimp Slayer claims he had no "direct jurisdiction" to intervene on behalf of the Oseguera family of Le Grand, carried off to the Bakersfield deportation holding tank and held for three weeks until their lawyer could explain they were in the process of naturalization and raise $20,000 bail. Evidently he believes he has direct jurisdiction over the amount of water that flows through 40 miles of dry river in Fresno County and into the farming districts of eastern Tulare and Kern counties and that his good offices would be beneficial to Westlands Water District.

From Shrimp Slayer's point of view, however, we could speculate that his meddling doesn't matter at all, as long as it is a far away from Pombo as possible. That's the great think about Shrimp Slayer, you may not agree with him on the issues, but you always know who he is and where he stands -- the rear end of the Pomboza running away as fast as he can.

Shrimp Slayer's behavior is said to be "smart politics," which, like "smart growth" is constantly advertised as wise and admirable decision making by influential people and those who want to be influential people now that the full violence of lawless, stupid growth has come to the 18th congressional district, which is rapidly becoming just another Tracy, with, of course, a UC campus.

Bill Hatch
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Poll says Pombo support waning

Hank Shaw
Capitol Bureau Chief
Stockton Record
Published Thursday, May 11, 2006
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060511/NEWS01/605110337&SearchID=73244256515633

SACRAMENTO - Voters may not know much about the Democrats opposing Tracy's Rep. Richard Pombo, but it might not matter, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

A survey of 402 likely general election voters in Pombo's 11th District taken last week by a well-known Democratic pollster found that 52 percent would rather vote for someone other than the Republican incumbent this fall.

Republican political oddsmaker Allan Hoffenblum, co-editor of a guide to legislative and congressional elections, was impressed by the numbers even though pollster Greenberg Quinlan Rosner's survey was conducted on behalf of the activist group Defenders of Wildlife.

"It's a sign of deep, deep trouble," Hoffenblum, of California Target Book, said. "It's not easy to get a voter to say they'd fire an incumbent."

Pombo consultant Wayne Johnson said the campaign's internal polling does not match the Greenberg poll, but he did acknowledge that voters are sour on Congress in general.

"The atmospherics are depressing for any incumbent in Congress right now," Johnson said. Still, he said the order of questions in the Greenberg poll could have skewed the results.

"You get people in a hanging mood and it can dramatically affect the result," he said.

Pombo's position as House Resources Committee chairman has placed him at the center of the Republicans' ethical issues in Congress.

He was among the strongest allies of indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Pombo also has come under fire for misusing the congressional mail service and for spending $5,000 in taxpayer money to take his family on an RV tour of the West's national parks.

He received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff. And though he repeatedly denies that his votes are influenced by campaign contributions, he is seen as being fast friends with oil, logging, energy and mining interests. Just over a week ago, Pombo benefited from a campaign fund-raiser in Houston hosted by several leading energy industry lobbyists.

All of this is impacting his image among the voters, the poll found. Less than one in three likely voters has a favorable view of the incumbent, who is seeking an eighth congressional term. And he's losing in test heats to both his Democratic opponents, Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton and Steve Filson of Danville.

A recent poll by the McNerney campaign showed that only 40 percent of primary voters recognized him while less than 20 percent recognized Filson.

"These guys are nobodies, and they're beating him," Pollster Ben Turchin said. "That's unheard of. I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that this race is over, but he's in a deep hole."

"Richard Pombo has turned the House Resource Committee into a grand bazaar where special interests ... all get favored treatment in return for campaign cash and luxury trips. The voters have finally noticed," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

Hoffenblum downplayed any strength Filson and McNerney showed in the survey because the 11th District is still GOP turf.

"If Pombo loses, the voters will be throwing him out - not putting Democrats in," he said.

Sacramento State University political scientist Barbara O'Connor noted that Defenders of Wildlife paid for the poll - which can run $20,000 or more - largely to help raise the millions they expect to spend this year trying to defeat Pombo.

Pombo's career-long effort to overhaul the federal Endangered Species Act has made him enemy No. 1 within the environmental movement.

That said, O'Connor said she suspects Pombo is in peril.

"I don't think these numbers are necessarily out in orbit from what I've seen, but they are a little high," O'Connor said.

Hoffenblum, who had downplayed the potential competitiveness of the race before, said he might have to change his mind.

"This could really be a horse race," he said.

View details of the poll are at www.defendersactionfund.org/releases/GreenbergPollMemoMay.pdf

Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Hank Shaw at (916) 441-4078 or sacto@recordnet.com
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Karl Rove Indicted on Charges of Perjury, Lying to Investigators
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Saturday 13 May 2006

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, did not return a call for comment. Sources said Fitzgerald was in Washington, DC, Friday and met with Luskin for about 15 hours to go over the charges against Rove, which include perjury and lying to investigators about how and when Rove discovered that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative and whether he shared that information with reporters, sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said.

It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

An announcement by Fitzgerald is expected to come this week, sources close to the case said. However, the day and time is unknown. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the special prosecutor was unavailable for comment. In the past, Samborn said he could not comment on the case …
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Friends rally for jailed teen

Petition delivered to congressman's office

By Leslie Albrecht
Merced Sun-Star -- April 14, 2006

... In a statement released Thursday, Cardoza responded to the students' letter.

"The Congressman understands that this is a difficult situation for this family. He appreciates the concern the students of Le Grand Union High School have expressed for their fellow classmate. As a member of Congress, Representative Cardoza does not have direct jurisdiction over this case. However, he believes that everyone who enters the United States must comply with the law."
------------------

Regrouping after near-deportation...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12178706p-12922563c.html
LE GRAND - To the United States government, the Osegueras are criminals -- immigration absconders who were arrested along with 45 other Merced County residents during a two-day immigration sweep in late March. Gloria and her children entered the U.S. illegally in 1992...applied for asylum, but application was denied. They obtained work permits through a lawyer, started the process of gaining legal status. In 2000, a judge issued a deportation order, their lawyer filed an appeal and told them not to leave the country. The motion has been pending before the Immigration Board of Appeals since 2003. At 4:20 a.m. Friday, March 30 seven ICE agents knocked on the front door of their apartment; they would be sent to an immigration processing center in Fresno, then back to Mexico. Gloria explained that the family had a lawyer and that their case was under appeal; agents said the deportation order was final. When they got to Fresno, they called their lawyer, who filed for an emergency stay of appeal. Alma's classmates rallied to support her...collected signatures on petitions asking for Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, to help the family and hand-delivered them to Cardoza's office. Finally on Cinco de Mayo, their lawyer called...bail had been set; they could leave jail... Alma will graduate from Le Grand High School.
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At the Tipping Point, A Great Valley Center Event, May 10-11, 2006, Sacramento.
Oral comments on south San Joaquin Valley water politics by different participants.

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SJ Mercury News Endorses McCloskey/McNerney for CD 11

Submitted: May 08, 2006

Date: May 8, 2006 8:22:23 AM PDT
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/opinion/14527503.html

Give the nod to Pombo challengers

REPUBLICAN MCCLOSKEY, DEMOCRAT MCNERNEY WOULD BE WORTHY COMPETITORS IN THE FALL

Mercury News Editorial

Even before he became associated with the sleaze surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, even before he was accused of taking a family vacation on the government's dime and even before a watchdog group called him one of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress, it was clear that Richard Pombo had to go.

The conservative seven-term Republican congressman from Tracy has a record of radical anti-environmentalism that has imperiled the nation's natural resources, is wrong for the country and is out of step with a state that's known for its environmental leadership.

Fortunately, Pombo's record may be catching up with him. He faces serious challenges to his re-election from both sides of the aisle in a race that has drawn national attention. His 11th Congressional District reaches from Lodi in the north to Morgan Hill in the south and Danville in the east.

Former Congressman Pete McCloskey, who represented the Peninsula for eight terms between 1967 and 1983, is challenging Pombo in the Republican primary. At 78, McCloskey appears to have the same energy and conviction of his younger days, when he became a maverick in his own party, protested against the Vietnam War and ran against Richard Nixon in 1972.

He's hoping to bring his party back to the center and fight against the ethical lapses and fiscal recklessness that have tarnished Republicans in Congress. He also vows to be a staunch defender of environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act, which he helped write. Destruction of the ESA has been Pombo's No. 1 mission.

McCloskey admits he exercised poor judgment when he spoke in 2000 to a group that disputes historical facts about the Holocaust. Because of that speech and of his longstanding and blunt criticism of U.S. policy toward Israel, he has been labeled anti-Semitic, a charge that is undeserved.

McCloskey faces an uphill battle, but he's the best choice in the Republican primary.

On the Democratic side, two good candidates have emerged as leading contenders. Neither Jerry McNerney, 54, an engineer and wind-energy consultant from Pleasanton, nor Steve Filson, 59, a United Airlines pilot and retired U.S. Navy commander from Danville, has held elected office. But both bring good ideas and have energized various Democratic Party constituencies. Of the two, we find McNerney's message more compelling.

Filson, a fiscal conservative and social liberal, promises to focus on economic development and fight for transportation dollars, which are needed to upgrade the district's clogged freeways. Having lost his pension at United, he identifies with the pressures faced by working families saddled with rising health care and education costs and stagnant wages.

Most of all, Filson emphasizes his decision-making leadership skills, honed over 20 years as a U.S. Navy pilot and later as a United pilot. He's been endorsed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and various members of Congress including Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, George Miller and Ellen Tauscher.

For his part, McNerney has been running a grass-roots campaign fueled by support from union members that earned him the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. He wants to bring jobs to economically sluggish portions of the district in the San Joaquin Valley, in part by helping promote the area's nascent alternative-energy industry. His professional background would make him a good advocate for more sensible energy policy in Washington.

McNerney offers clear thinking on the nation's health care crisis, emphasizing the need to rally businesses to the cause of reform. And he would rescind portions of the Bush tax cuts that have disproportionately benefited wealthy Americans.

McNerney ran against Pombo in 2004 and got 39 percent of the vote, despite receiving no support from the state or national Democratic Party and being massively outspent by Pombo. That experience should come in handy in November.

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The Lagoon

Submitted: Apr 16, 2006

Representatives Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, and George Radanovich, Bankrupt Winemaker-Mariposa, are proposing a National Agricultural Science Center for Modesto and have introduced a bill in Congress for funding. They argue that because Modesto has produced more ag politicians since World War II than any other city in the US, Modesto deserves this national center.

In order to shore up his political standing, the one-party, rightwing House of Representatives leadership recently appointed Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, vice-chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. Congress is debating a new, 5-year Farm Bill, Pete McCloskey is nailing Pombo’s corrupt hide to every Grange Hall and political club wall in the 11th Congressional District, and Pombo’s handlers have moved the cattle trailer that used to sit one field west of Tracy’s last subdivision that announced “Pombo’s Real Estate Farms.”

Pombo and Cardoza, known collectively by local farmers as the Pomboza, have made a career for themselves whipping up private property-rights rage against the federal Endangered Species Act. Cardoza and the rest of Merced County’s farm-loving political leadership graciously bestowed the Williamson Act on all unincorporated Merced County, claiming deceitfully that it was to be “mitigation for UC Merced.” Merced is the last major agricultural county in the state to get the Williamson Act, which is proving to be a boon for developers buying up ag land at reduced property taxes all over the county.

The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, so highly praised for being pioneers in Valley irrigation in the early years of the last century, every year convert their historic mission more and more to water and electric utilities to slurb development. The smaller Merced Irrigation District dreams the same dream.

The hypocrisy and greed for prestige, credit and honorifics displayed in this proposal is preposterous. Developers, aided every step of the way by local political leadership, are paving over north San Joaquin Valley agriculture as fast as the next “guidance package,” “programmatic EIR,” and quicker than a county planner can say “mitigated negative declaration.” In the process, they are creating an air pollution disaster that is already costing millions in lost production on the remaining agricultural land.

Yet, as a world-class laboratory for everything wrong with agribusiness, no place could be better suited than Modesto (if the former site of the Shell ag chemical lab in Ripon is not a contender). Here is a farming region with no more farms. There is no sense of distinct place left in this farming region. Nobody who farms this land can afford to love this land anymore. Although estates and mansions rise from some of these fields, there is little evidence of real care for real place left. Essentially, there are no more farms, only acreage. In this region you can’t hear the cows moo on the mega-dairy factories, the meadowlarks warble, or the sounds of tractors or crop dusters for the constant background roar of commuter traffic and the real estate adding machine in town, dinning the air with the Great Kah-Ching as it calculates the development value of each acre of farm and ranch land for future slurb.

What the Shrimp Slayer and the Bankrupt Winemaker are proposing is a science museum that will obscure the truth of the disaster of agribusiness even when it is all slurbed over. The McClatchy Chain is enthusiastic.

But the real reason Modesto deserves the center is because of the leadership roles county residents have had in state and national agriculture, Wenger said.

Richard Lyng and Anne Veneman served as U.S. agriculture secretaries as well as state agriculture secretaries, Wenger noted. Henry Voss, Clare Berryhill and Bill Lyons all served as state agriculture secretaries.

"No other county in the country has had that kind of leadership," Wenger said.

You bet. And if any other county had that kind of leadership, they might not have been quite as quick to brag about it. Lyng wasn’t a farmer, he was a rich, politically connected seed dealer. Veneman, daughter of a state legislator, gained the nickname “Mad Cow Annie” when, during her tenure as secretary of the USDA she managed almost to completely bury the mad cow disease story and any serious investigation of it, probably with health consequences it will take many years to realize. Voss and Berryhill were farmers, and -- if memory serves --gentlemen of proto-Pombo political orientation. Lyons failed to get the UC campus on the Mapes Ranch, which he inherited. So he bought 530 acres in the path of development of UC Merced. Asking for annexation to the City of Merced, he appeared before the city council in jeans and plaid shirt as a simple family farmer; but he had his suits handle the deal at the county Local Agency Formation Commission. Lyons is a developer, not a rancher, who bought his state ag secretary post fair and square with a huge fund-raising effort on behalf of Gray Davis’ campaign.

About the only thing the Badlands editorial staff could contribute to this monument to agricultural ruin in the San Joaquin Valley would be to suggest that outside the national center there should be a statue of a Holstein cow about two stories high. “Annie,” the blurb might read. “She lived one year. She made much milk and fast food. Before she died, she wasn’t quite herself.”

Talking it over further, the Badlands editorial staff came up with a counter proposal, a wax museum dedicated to the superb San Joaquin Valley agricultural political leadership from which agriculture has so greatly benefited. Although there are many possible names, the staff decided that, in the vernacular at least, it probably would be called simply, “The Lagoon.”

Pombo’s recently disappeared cattle trailer would be parked outside, proclaiming again, “Pombo Real Estate Farms.” (There is no more completely sound bitten mind in the Valley than the ol’ Buffalo Slayer’s.)

In the lobby, we see a superhuman sized figure -- one hand outstretched to receive, the other full of cash to bestow – a wax likeness of Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho.

Entering the darkened hall, at the first exhibit, backlit behind glass, the visitor would encounter the Mr. and Ms. UC Merced Gallery and would be plunged into the Science Motif, but in a folksy style. This would be an old-timey musical scene, as befits our agricultural heritage, subtitled, “One Voice for The Great Kah-Ching.” At the center of the ensemble would be a barbershop quartet labeled “The Bobbies” (Ayers, Carpenter, Rucker and Smith). The conductor would again be ol’ Honest Graft himself. Musicians would include former Rep. Gary Condit, Lover-Ceres, on fiddle, the Shrimp Slayer on bass, and former state Sen. Dick Monteith, Halfback-Modesto on guitar, conducted by Mike Lynch, with a buggy whip.

Motion-activated, the Bobbies would break into an original song in four-part harmony with one word: “Kah-Ching,” sung to the tune of Abba’s 1960’s hit, “Money.”

Beside them would be an all-woman choir, dressed in white robes, each with a golden halo. Although the wax here would be melted into an angelic blob, a few faces would shine out with holy grace: Supervisor Kathleen Crookham would be the most distinguishable, one hand tastefully strangling a fairy shrimp.

They would be accompanied on harp by Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the Cowgirl Chancellor herself. Her hat would be of that very, very special shade of royal blue issued to UC administration officials in lieu of the indictments for fraud and corruption they should receive. Her blouse would be of royal blue and golden stripes. Her authentic cowgirl vest would be made of bobcat fur. Her square-dance skirt of royal blue would be decorated with golden dollar signs interspersed with medical cadeusises. Her boots would be made of black bear-cub hide.

The landscape painted on the curved wall behind them would be filled with depictions of subdivisions completed and under construction with Phase One of the UC Merced campus, radioactively glowing on a low hill, like a Ronald Reagan holy city for all the right Americans and none of the rest of us. There would also be artistically rendered swollen creeks and our Mr. and Ms. UC Merceds would be standing knee deep in dirty water.

In the corner would be only a sign but no wax figure – “Our Governor, the Hun, Who Didn’t Come to the UC Merced Opening.”

The next exhibit would be strobe lit and flickering, but there would be enough intermittent light to make out the figure of former Gov. Gray Davis, an electrical plug in hand.

The third exhibit would be nothing but glass enclosed smoke. The sign would read, “Air Quality.” There would be a black box with a button on it, marked “High-Tech Fix.” When visitors push the button, they would hear the sound of a hospital ward of children coughing, but the smoke would not disappear. Sponsors of this exhibit would be the Gentlemen Start Your Engines Association, the Arkansas/China Trading Hong, the International Foundation for the Preservation of Dirty Diesel Engines, the Make Me SuperRich Developers Association, the Maybe Someday UC Merced Medical Institute for the Study of Childhood Respiratory Disease, the Alliance of Fully Indemnified San Joaquin Valley Local Land-Use Authorities, and the huge membership of the San Joaquin Valley We Don't Give and Damn and Can't Do Anything About It Anyway Society.

Another exhibit would be labeled “FALFA – We Are Always on the Winning Side.” This would be a single, monumental, lumpy piece of wax from which the faces of our prominent spokeswomen for agriculture and smart growth would vaguely emerge – Carol Whiteside, Holly King, Merced County Supervisor Diedre Kelsey, Diana Westmoreland Pedroza, etc.

Yet another exhibit, labeled “Almost the First President from Ceres and Family,” would show the interior of an ice cream franchise in an Arizona strip mall and the Condit family, capped and aproned, scooping ice cream to a group of unemployed construction workers.

The “42-Inch Sewer Trunk Line from Livingston” would be an artist’s rendering of a long line of Ranchwood earth-moving equipment digging and covering a ditch from the Livingston sewer plant to Stevinson, across county roads and a Merced Irrigation District canal. When visitors push a red button, marked “Merced County Planning Process,” the following message is played:

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

“Village of Geneva Meets Planada Natives” would depict a touching scene in contemporary rural class relations. The above-mentioned Hostetler, top dog in the Geneva deal, in US Calvary officer drag, surrounded by assorted lesser developers in golf clothes, is seen presenting a snow-cone machine (marked “$600 or more”) to local officials of the unincorporated town of Planada, attired in buckskin and feathers with smiles painted on their faces.

Visitors seeking more information on this exhibit would push a button and hear a short dialogue.

Question: What do you get when you cross a school board with a sewer district board?

Answer: A piss poor receptacle for slush fund contributions! Or as Robert Frost might have opined: Something there is that doesn’t love a snow cone machine that sends a chilling public records act request through frozen coils and spills its donors’ check stubs in the sun, exposing accounting gaps big enough to squeeze through the whole ball of wax.

In “DC Does Deacons of Merced,” visitors observe a wax phallus representing male members of the Merced County unregistered, tax paid lobbyists of the “One Whine” crowd in Washington. After a hard day of pimping for federal highway funds for the UC Campus Parkway, they are artistically rendered priapic while ogling strippers, getting the real feel of Beltway politics.

“The Milking String Shakedown” abstractly represents the Valley dairy industry as a doleful, huge-headed Giant garter snake, its mouth full of money, coiled at the feet of the Pomboza, a one-headed creature with four hands reaching down to grab the cash. The huge head is composed of suits decorated with brands – United Western Dairymen, Hilmar Cheese, Gallo and assorted other mega-dairycrats. As the visitors’ eyes follow the snake back toward the tip of its tail, rubber boots begin faintly to emerge in the design, as back-to-front the entire industry is neatly packed and arranged according to the sizes of dairy herds. Pushing the informational button, visitors hear a simple statement: “No 3-cent per hundredweight tax!”

“The Lagoon: A Wax Museum of San Joaquin Valley Leadership” is a work in wax and in progress. However, we think our concept is sound and already more fully realized than its competitors, and we humbly petition the Pomboza for federal funding for this public, grassroots project.

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

Ground broken on ag center bill...Tim Moran
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/12041403p-12797891c.html
The bill is in the hopper to authorize spending federal money for the proposed National Agricultural Science Center in Modesto. Cardoza, D-Merced is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa... ag center is proposed as an interactive, high-technology exhibit designed to explain to people of all ages where food comes from, and agriculture's relationship to the environment and to technology. "I believe it is important for the community to invest in this," Cardoza said. As for when federal money might become available, "It will take a little while," Cardoza said. Allocating new federal money for the center probably isn't realistic, he said. "We are going to have to find an existing pot of money," Cardoza said.

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Resistance to slurb grows in Merced County

Submitted: Apr 14, 2006
At their June 13 meeting, supervisors will take a vote on one of five options for how to handle developer-driven growth. Those options range from leaving the system as it is to enforcing a moratorium on any growth that requires changing the general plan. – Chris Collins, Merced Sun-Star, April 12, 2006

Although the general reader of the Merced Sun-Star would not have been able to figure it out, the supervisors had a proposal to vote on Tuesday and they continued the hearing on the issue in the face of determined, well-organized resistance. Local resistance is mounting against incomprehensible and destructive planning idiocy brought about by the arrival of UC Merced and its induced speculative growth boom. The particular idiocy the supervisors were discussing Tuesday is a scheme to simultaneously hire consultants to update the county General Plan – the countywide planning guidance package – while continuing to approve amendments to the existing, out-dated general plan. The latter amendments are developer-written planning guidance packages. This creates a race between county land-use planners trying to create policies and rules for the development of unincorporated, largely agricultural land, and private developers breaking existing and yet unformulated policies and rules for private profit by slurbing farm and ranch land.

It must be added that California planning idiocy is not unique to Merced. The City of Oakley approved a 4,000-unit development six feet below sea level and under a Delta levee, recently. Oakley is being sued by environmentalists. However, the collectively destructive behavior of California local land-use authorities makes their decisions no less idiotic. From a public viewpoint, one could say there is danger in numbers in this planning insanity. The sytem is completely broken from a public health and safety perspective, but it will keep on going on until the public has the guts to stand up against the developer bullies.

Everyone has their favorite examples of this process. Our favorite is the 42-inch sewer trunk line emanating from Livingston, headed for Stevinson without a speck of environmental review to blemish its perfect sheen of greed and political corruption between the City of Livingston, its benighted sewer plant beside the Merced River, a large, terribly influential local landowner and the most gonzo developer in the county. Another is the deep ripping of thousands of acres of seasonal pasture land near Le Grand full of vernal pools and tributary streams to navigable waters of the US done without any permitting or notification of state and federal resource agencies, which it was the obligation of the county to do.

Below is a letter to the county Board of Supervisors from attorney Marsha Burch, who has tried several environmental cases in recent years in Merced County, on the plan proposed to the supervisors by the county General Plan Steering Committee. The public has so far been unable, through a state Public Records Act request, to view documents that would explain who are the members of this committee or the minutes to its meetings.

Below Burch’s letter, we have included the Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process, which calls for a moratorium on growth not already permitted until the county General Plan is updated, and an end to the corrupt practice of developers paying local land-use authorities legal bills when the public sues the land-use authorities for rubber-stamping slurb.

Bill Hatch
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April 11, 2006

Via Email and Facsimile (209.726-7977):
Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, CA 95340

Re: Proposed General Plan Amendment Policy and Procedures During the General Plan Update Process – set for public hearing April 11, 2006, Item No. 53

Dear Supervisors:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney, represents the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and other groups, and these comments supplement comments previously submitted regarding the above-referenced agenda item. Thank you for this opportunity to provide you with these comments. These comments are submitted just prior to the hearing in large part because our clients have been working to obtain documents relating to the above-referenced item, and have been entirely unsuccessful. The general plan steering committee is apparently meeting, having discussions and making recommendations, and our clients have been unable to obtain a single document regarding the dates or times of the meetings, nor have they been able to locate any minutes or written records of the meetings. The public has not had an opportunity to understand what choices are actually before the Board today. Additional information must be obtained in order to inform the public, and it would seem that the Board would also be interested in receiving all relevant information before making a decision on this important policy issue.

1. It is unclear what is before the Board

It is unclear whether the Board is being asked to select a policy from the four proposed by staff, or to approve the Guidance Packages that apparently triggered discussion of these policy issues. If the Board intends to approve any Guidance Package(s), the public has not received notice of that fact, and has not had an opportunity to comment. Further, if the Board intends to approve any application or request that would grant a right or entitlement, CEQA review has not been undertaken. It is difficult to comment on an agenda item so vague that it is impossible to determine exactly what is being proposed.

In addition to the confusion resulting from the agenda item itself, our clients have attempted to obtain documents relating to this item, including making Public Records Act Requests, and have not been able to get a single document. We do not have enough information at this time to make form an informed opinion on the subject, but it appears that the steering committee “meetings” may be in contravention of Brown Act requirements. This issue must be thoroughly considered in the light of day, and the public deserves the opportunity to understand, consider and comment upon the various options available to the County with respect to conducting a cost-effective and legally adequate update to the General Plan.

Finally, this item was continued from the February 14, 2006, meeting, and it would seem that additional information would have been gathered in order to inform your deliberations. There appears to be no staff report or additional information. We request that you continue this item in order to obtain the information you need to inform your decision, and to allow the public to receive information necessary to understand the issues.

2. Processing General Plan Amendments During the General Plan Update Process will Result in Staff and Consultants Working at Cross-Purposes

With respect to the substance of the policy issues, allowing privately funded general plan amendments to proceed during the time when County staff and consultants will be working on a comprehensive general plan update will result in the public purposes of the update process being contradicted by profit-driven efforts to amend the outdated General Plan before the update is completed. We urge you to fully support the General Plan update effort by protecting it from potentially contradictory plan amendment efforts.

At this time, we do not believe that the Board or the public has sufficient information to make a determination on this issue. In fact, this is one of the most complicated issues currently facing the County, and you have not even received a staff report. If the item before you today involves approval of specific applications, that has not been made clear, and necessary materials have not been available. If this truly is consideration of a policy to be adopted for use during the General Plan update process, adequate information regarding the number of projects in the pipeline that will be effected by this policy, and there has not been an honest evaluation of the negative impact the privately funded General Plan “update” will have on the County’s General Plan update. We urge you to continue this item, or adopt a policy that will protect the General Plan update process.

Very truly yours,

Marsha A. Burch
Attorney at Law
131 South Auburn Street
Grass Valley, CA 95945

cc: Clients
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Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.

The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.

We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

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

Adopted 2006

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

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
MISSION STATEMENT

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

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341
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Notes:

4-12-06
Merced Sun-Star
Some call for moratorium until general plan is updated...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12045253p-12801466c.html
Merced County's comprehensive "general plan" approved in 1995 to guide the county's development is outdated and practically useless; it's irresponsible to continue to use it to direct new growth in the county. But large developments are moving forward and more are on the way. The county is in the beginning phase of a three-year process to form a new general plan that will reflect the current population and level of development in the area...supervisors are trying to figure out how to handle development under the wings of the 11-year-old plan. Deidre Kelsey..."I'm disappointed it's not already completed. We have a general plan that doesn't reflect the realities of our county." O'Banion said roadblocks to new development would hurt the county. Nelson said "We know we need to preserve our prime farmland, but we already have protections in the general plan." Representatives from the building industry and the Merced County Chamber of Commerce don't want the system to change and oppose a moratorium on growth. At their June 13 meeting, supervisors will take a vote on one of five options for how to handle developer-driven growth... options range from leaving the system as it is to enforcing a moratorium on any growth that requires changing the general plan.

Environmental group sues to block below-sea-level housing tract...Patrick Hoge
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/04/12/BAG2PI7JVS1.DTL&hw=environment&sn=008&sc=545
Oakley's plan to allow 4,000 new homes on land that is behind levees and 6 feet below sea level. In the suit filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, the Greenbelt Alliance said Oakley failed to adequately consider the potential for levee failures or to require mitigations for numerous likely impacts of urban development on the Hotchkiss Tract in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The suit also says that urban storm water, which under the development plan would be captured and treated in artificial lakes, could contaminate drinking water supplies used by millions of Californians. Critics, including state officials, environmentalists and academics, say that urbanizing such floodplains is unwise. Developers are nevertheless pushing to build in numerous flood-prone areas around the state, with nearly 40,000 homes planned behind levees in the cities of Lathrop (San Joaquin County), Oakley and Stockton alone.

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