Environment

Timing is everything

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

While some in Merced scratch their heads and chew their pencil erasers trying to comment on a large Riverside Motorsports Park Master Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Report and others don their black RMP caps to rally in support of the track, John Condren, CEO of RMP, and Kenny Shepherd, RMP president, take their dog-and-pony show to Tracy to talk about the wonders of an expanded Altamont Speedway and about expanding their lease on the Speedway from two to 10 years.

Although these guys are too cute by half, in their various pitches here and there about the Valley, they manage to drop things.

“We’ve had more tracks close in the past 12 months than in the entire period (from) 1975 to 2005,” he said. With Stockton 99 due to close at the end of 2006 “we cannot afford to lose another track, so we stepped up to the plate.”

Timing is everything. Condren is a talented man. Perhaps, given the timing, he should consider promoting bicycle tracks, popular during the McKinley administration, widely adored by the present administration at war for oil and the right to torture anyone to get more of it.

Bill Hatch
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Changes come to local raceway
Christopher H. Roberts

Tracy Press -- Jan. 6, 2005

Major changes are afoot at Altamont.

Just three weeks after the surprise announcement that Riverside Motorsports Park, LLC, of Atwater are the Altamont raceway’s new managers, the company’s CEO and president revealed the vision for the track’s future at a meeting Thursday in Tracy.

Among the planned improvements are a new Musco lighting system, membership in NASCAR, a remodeled pit area, effective wind-screens and the ability to convert the quarter-mile oval track into 27 different street courses.

Riverside, currently in the middle of a $230 million racetrack construction project in Merced, chose to take on the added burden of managing and improving Altamont for the overall good of the sport, CEO John Condren said.

“We’ve had more tracks close in the past 12 months than in the entire period (from) 1975 to 2005,” he said. With Stockton 99 due to close at the end of 2006 “we cannot afford to lose another track, so we stepped up to the plate.”

The meeting began with a blend of urgency and fatalism.

“Motorsports is in trouble,” Riverside president and former racer Kenny Shepard said. “If we don’t do something, Altamont will be a business park in two years.”

“Failure is not an option,” Condren said.

To explain the business side of the venture, Condren and Shepard used a mix of racing talk and corporate speak.

Condren announced that the days of one event a week at Altamont are over, as a wider variety of events spread over three to five days make for “multiple revenue streams.”

“I like to call this a paradigm shift,” he said.

However, many racers present raised fears that their particular racing classes would be phased out at Altamont, fears that neither Condren nor Shepard allayed.

“We’re looking at what’s going to work for the next 10 years,” Condren said. “If your class gets eliminated
— I’m sorry.”

The problems that have plagued Altamont for years — shoddy lighting, primitive pits and the legendary high winds — were specifically addressed.

And news that a new Musco lighting system was already on the way drew a round of applause.

Still, the 200-odd assembled drivers, mechanics and racing fans were skeptical at first.

“These are promises we’ve heard before,” Ken Benhamou of Pleasanton said to Condren. “You’ve got a big task ahead of you — if you make promises, I want to see you commit.”

To this, Condren pointed to the $1.5 million already invested by Riverside in Altamont as proof that the new management will stay for longer than the initial two-year lease.

He also emphasized the large amount of work already done.

“We’ve moved a mountain in three weeks” since signing the agreement to lease the track, Condren said.
The plan is simple at its core.

“The goal is to get the stands full,” Shepard said. “This conversation means nothing if that track is a
ghost town.”

To do that, Riverside will need to make sure Altamont’s image becomes much more ubiquitous.

“A lot of people in this town don’t know that the track is still around,” Gayle Widgay of Tracy said.

Condren and Shepard assured that a sophisticated marketing plan is already under way, including extensive media advertising and corporate sponsorships.

The professionalism seemed to encourage those present that 2006 would truly usher in a new era at Altamont, and any fears held going into the meeting were relieved — at least for now.

“They seem like real businessmen,” racer Ryan Steele of Pleasanton said. “Not just some old guys running a track. And that’s what Altamont needs.”

http://www.tracypress.com/sports/2006-01-06-raceway.php

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POW/Raptor comment letter on Riverside Motorsports Park draft environmental impact report

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

From: Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
Modesto CA 95350

To: Mr. James Holland January 6, 2006

Merced County Planning Department
2222 M St.
Merced, California 95340 Emailed
Fax: (209) 726-1710

Re: Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report, Riverside Motorsports Park – General Plan Amendment No. 03005,Zone Change No 03007, State Clearinghouse # 2003071138

Dear Mr. Holland,

We are commenting on the DEIR of the Riverside Motorsports Park.

This project, as meticulously described in detail in the DEIR, does not need the flexibility provided by a special zoning designation. Therefore we object to the development plan zoning designation. This proposed major auto raceway, with great cumulative impacts on the environment of Merced County, should, under no conditions, be permitted to change its plan subject only to the administrative approval of a new, out-of-state director of Development Services.

The DEIR is so narrowly focused on the needs of the project that it fails to even consider the broader impacts the project would have to natural resources, public health and safety and infrastructure needs.

We found it unacceptably confusing that the master plan didn’t coordinate in any obvious way with the DEIR.

Until the county General Plan is properly updated, even to consider the number of possible amendments this project would be asking for is irresponsible land-use planning. Currently, the County is claiming an update in 1995. This is not true; it was amended. An amendment is not a comprehensive update. Since then, a number of other amendments have so warped the General Plan that it is now admitted by all to be a useless policy document.

The County has yet to coordinate responsibly with other jurisdictions on other projects like the Bellevue Corridor and the Atwater/Merced Expressway Project.

Racetracks have a history of failure and this one is competing with several major tracks in nearby counties, including Laguna Seca and Sears Point. Proponents require special zoning that will give them extreme flexibility, despite the apparent level of detail and narrow focus of this DEIR. Under the master plan, changes can simply be made by administrative decision of the director of Development Services. Given these three factors, we must consider the probability that this RMP is a holding pattern, just like a golf course, and that at any time, at the administrative discretion of the director of Development Services, the project can be converted, at taxpayer expense, into commercial development, part of a commercial corridor.

The environmental checklist is so over defined by the needs of the project, as opposed to the needs of the environment, that the proposed mitigations and the lack mitigations fail to reach the standard of a competent DEIR, leaving the public and the resource agencies unable to accurately address this project.

Growth is happening in this area in a haphazard, unplanned way. The impacts from this growth have not been taken into consideration in this DEIR. Mitigation measures in this DEIR defer responsibility to other plans, which, like the regional water plan anticipated for six years, are plans to make plans, for example the Traffic and Circulation Management Plan on page 4-31 of the Master Plan. Mixed in with these plans to make plans, are concrete proposals, such as the creation of a new road, Riverside Drive, without any analysis or alternatives.

This document provides no proof for its claim that there will be no impact to wildlife and habitat from the project.

The document displays a faulty understanding of environmental benefit, for example, on p. 4-2 of the Master Plan.

There is no analysis of the pharmaceutical and solvent content of wastewater proposed to be used in the project.

These documents rely on the infrastructure of the former Castle Air Force Base, yet there is no discussion of this infrastructure or its environmental condition.

We have been consistently involved in this area of the county for a number of years, and have provided the County with numerous public comments on environmental concerns.

We are reserving the right to submit additional information at the time of the public hearing on the FEIR.

In conclusion, we support the no-project alternative because this project fails meet CEQA standards and the county’s current, out-dated general plan.

Respectfully submitted,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

cc: Interested parties
William Hatch, Badlandsjournal.com

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Vroooom!

Submitted: Jan 02, 2006

A fine example of pro-racetrack poison penmanship appeared in the Merced Sun-Star on Friday. It is offered with a few questions in reply below.

Critics' motives are tainted

Editor: I'm getting very concerned with the ulterior motives of the few but very vocal detractors of the Riverside Motorsports Park facility. Much of what they write is conjecture; the rest is simply untrue.

What are the real reasons they push so hard against such a facility that can add millions of dollars in tax revenues that can then be spent on University of California, Merced, programs, working with RMP as a test lab, to solve some of the problems these people claim to represent? What are they really after?

Many are the same who opposed UC Merced. For that, I would say that RMP is keeping very good company. However they did delay UC Merced's opening for a long time, and when you Google some of the opposing organizations, all you get is a page full of lawsuits and out-of-court settlements. I haven't seen where any of that ill-gotten gain has been spent to solve water or air quality problems. I do see in the environmental impact report that RMP has a plan to save water. If some of our problems are solved, do the detractors lose a source of income?

They are even attacking backers now, claiming that backers are in it for the big bucks. I'm a backer, and I don't stand to gain a dime. We just want a facility that we can be proud of, and this one is like no other in the country.

Speaking of big bucks, where do you suppose all that money from litigation went? To fund a letter writing smear campaign?

DAVID WOOD

Let's try a few simple questions on this smear by Mr. Wood. What ulterior motives would opponents of the racetrack have other than trying to protect their air quality in one of the top two worst air basins in the nation? What ulterior motive would they have beyond trying to avoid incredible traffic congestion and noise?

What's the connection between any tax millions the track might earn and the UC campus? Is he conjecturing that sales taxes will flow from one to the other? The track folks have been suggesting lately a win-win public/private partnership with UC on automotive problems. But I am not familiar with any statements made by UC about this partnership. Have I missed something? Has the UC Merced chancellor endorsed Riverside Motorsports Park?

Where does Wood get the idea that the people who oppose the track are many of the very few people who opposed UC Merced? Where has Wood found a website or any other information describing any out-of-court settlements between UC Merced and opponents? What is he talking about?

Isn't the RMP track similar to the major NASCAR track at Sears Point, about 100 miles from Merced? Aren't the RMP people already exploring a backup plan to expand the old Altamont track near Tracy, which they now manage? How would Mr. Wood know the proposed track "is like no other in the country"? Has he been to the other tracks in the country or is he relying on RMP's Mr. Condren's sales pitch?

Is Mr. Wood just very badly informed or is he deliberately lying on behalf of the racetrack? It doesn't matter because the damage is done. He's made a mean fool of himself in print to anyone who knows anything about the areas he covers in his letter.

But, mean foolishness is all part of this project. The fundamental problem is that the proposed facility -- quite aside from its obvious environmental impacts -- is a temple to denial of reality, like the Iraq War. With more than 2,100 American dead and 16,000 wounded, and around 30,000 Iraqi confirmed dead, we are losing a war lies got us into so that US oil companies could exploit those resources to make gasoline for our cars. Is the motive behind the pagan ritual of stockcar racing (What would Jesus drive?) that as long as the worshippers can see the cars zooming around the tracks, they can forget the reality of shrinking natural resources that will steadily erode the quality of life for all of us?

Kurt Vonnegut summed it up nicely:

"We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on." -- http://www.counterpunch.com/swanson12272005.htm

Personally, I like the idea suggested recently that we should have a racetrack as long as all the racecars on it are solar-powered.

Bill Hatch

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Reform mood hits Valley

Submitted: Dec 19, 2005

Appropriate for the worst air quality basin in the nation, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District last week decided the Valley would be the first region in the nation where developers must pay an air pollution fee for the new homes they build. While the amount of the fee, less than $800, which can be reduced by various mitigating factors, is a token that will be entirely passed on to home buyers, it establishes an important principle.

The Valley air pollution fee on new development acknowledges that the public has been subsidizing new development in the Valley as air pollution descended to Los Angeles standards and is now worse in some years. The Valley public has subsidized the new development with its own health, particularly the health of its most vulnerable citizens – children and the elderly. It has subsidized development with higher health care spending. The Valley public has subsidized growth in terms of deteriorating water quality and supply, sewer, water and road expansions. Valley children have subsidized growth by attending over-crowded, deteriorating public schools.

The Valley public has subsidized urban sprawl politically through the loss of representation of its elected officials, who for years have been distracted from their obligations to the general public by their obligations to developers, who make up the largest part of their campaign financing. The system whereby any developer, from the University of California to the national homebuilders to sand-and-gravel miners, automatically indemnifies the local land-use authority (city or county) from paying its own legal costs if the public sues the jurisdiction for violations of environmental law or public process has protected local land-use decision-makers from taking financial responsibility for decisions appellate court judges on occasion find absurd – unless the University of California is involved. How could UC say or do anything absurd?

Valley children are paying the highest price. Not permitted recess periods during the increasing number of bad air days; their asthma rate is a regional disgrace. What may be producing action on the air quality front is that childhood asthma has no decent respect for income levels, affecting the rich as well as the poor children of the Valley. But, due to developer political rigging in Sacramento, the children also pay because the developers do not pay an adequate amount of money for schools to keep up with growth.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board recently refused to be intimidated by a Hilmar Cheese legal/public-relations campaign to make it back off fining the “largest cheese factory in the world” $4 million for polluted ground water. The board will soon hold a scooping meeting and public workshop to examine agricultural pesticide discharges into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Tracy, hometown of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, under national attack for months,

authorized spending $60,000 to hire a consultant to write a plan that will identify potentially available land encircling the city's limits and address how the city can pay to keep that land pristine. If adopted, residents may continue to see acres of farmland and trees around town instead of unbridled roadways, rooftops and restaurants. (1)

It might be that the Pombo dynasty of real estate farmers is losing its grip on Tracy government. The leader of the local slow-growthers is Celeste Garamendi, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi’s sister.

The Stockton Record editorialized on Dec. 16 about preserving the Williamson Act to preserve agricultural land.

For 40 years, extraordinary measures have been taken to protect California farmland. This commitment is critically important now -- Since 1965, the Williamson Act has been the No. 1 device for conserving California's 30 million acres of agricultural land. More and more, its protections are under assault as homebuilders, developers and farmers seek ways to circumvent its restrictions. The Williamson Act is a relatively modest program that has been successful in protecting and preserving agricultural land in a state whose economy depends so heavily upon it. It's been especially important in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. There's no reason it shouldn't remain California's agricultural sentinel for 40 more years. (20)

Modesto Bee editor Marc Vashe wrote a tribute to Ralph Brown, former speaker of the state Assembly from Modesto, who wrote the Brown Act protecting the public’s right to access to governmental decisions. Brown retired after a successful legislative career of nearly 20 years, the last three as Assembly speaker. Jesse Unruh succeeded him. John Williamson was elected to the state Assembly in the early 1960s from Bakersfield. He seemed only to have served long enough to get the agricultural conservation law passed, when only years later came to bear his name.

Little is heard from the other half of the bipartisan environmental law gutting team that farmers are calling O Pomboza, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. A consortium of local, state and national groups filed suit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service yet again last week on its latest truncated, politically coerced, critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered and threatened species living in or close to the vernal pool wetlands. The largest fields of contiguous vernal pools in the nation lie in Cardoza’s district. So far, his several bills to damage or destroy the designation under the Endangered Species Act have failed but his finger prints are visible on the various slashed versions of the designation since Cardoza went to Congress in 2003.

Meanwhile, The Shrimp Slayer has a bit of a mess on his hands in his local office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. A few weeks ago, the county announced Ruben Castillo, county counsel, would be leaving, after a lackluster defense of county policies in a number of lawsuits. Today, the rumor was that Planning Director Bill Nicholson has been demoted to assistant planning director. The new planning director, the story goes, comes from fast-growing Henderson, Nevada, where (s)he has doubtlessly burned the midnight oil studying the California Environmental Quality Act.

And UC Merced still does not have its Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand northward onto the Virginia Smith Trust land where its Long Range Development Plan said it would. This leaves the option of expanding onto the land presently designated for the University Community.

Cardoza, whose political mentors appear to be Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho and Pombo, has worked hard to corrupt both the Brown and the Williamson acts in Merced County on behalf of UC Merced and developers. That kind of reputation might be coming around to bite him if the reform mood surfacing in the Valley gathers any momentum.

Notes:

(1) Tracy to plan for open spaces...Rick Brewer...12-18-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051218&Category=NEWS0101&ArtNo=512180351&SectionCat=&Template=printart

(2) Keep saving the land...Editorial...12-16-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051216&Category=OPED01&ArtNo=512160333&SectionCat=&Template=printart

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Environmental groups sue Interior again on vernal pool critical habitat

Submitted: Dec 17, 2005

December 13, 2005
Broad Coalition of Conservation Organizations Challenges Inadequate Habitat Protections for Wetland Species and Habitats
Note: A PDF copy of the complaint is available at: http://becnet.org/documents/complaint_vernal_pool_200512.pdf

Chico, CA – Butte Environmental Council, the California Native Plant Society, Defenders of Wildlife, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Vernalpools.Org, and Sierra Foothillls Audubon Society have filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of the Interior over its second, Final Vernal Pool Critical Habitat Rule for 15 endangered and threatened vernal pool plants and animals found in California and Oregon. On August 11, 2005 Interior designated 858,846 acres of critical habitat in the Final Rule, eliminating almost 900,000 acres that were proposed in the original 2002 Draft Rule. The 2005 rule is a result of litigation also filed by some the current plaintiffs over the elimination of more than one million acres of VPCH for the 15 species and five entire counties.

In the 2005 final critical habitat designation, Interior unlawfully relied upon a flawed analysis of economic impacts that overestimated potential costs of critical habitat designation, as well as underestimated and disregarded potential benefits of designation. Additionally, Interior unlawfully excluded many areas, including National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and lands overlapping with habitat conservation plans, based on inadequate existing protections.

“While Interior added some VPCH to the five excluded counties, others like Placer and Stanislaus were decimated based on a political agenda, not economics, which leaves them open to this legal challenge,” stated Barbara Vlamis, Executive Director of Butte Environmental Council (see charts below). “Not only did Interior’s Economic Analysis overstate economic costs, it also ignored the economic benefits associated with the protection of vernal pool grasslands, such as providing educational and recreational opportunities, infrastructure support services, ranching, tourism, and economy of scale by covering 15 species in one rule,” declared Vlamis.

To illustrate the overstated conclusions in the Economic Analysis, Butte County’s projected costs were $152 million over 20 years. Even if one accepts the economic methods used, which the plaintiffs do not, this translates into a microscopic 0.17% per year when compared with the annual economic output of the county, $7.36 billion (IMPLAN 2001). “Excluding any of the proposed VPCH is not justified by the economic analysis that led to this Rule,” stated Carol Witham, President of the California Native Plant Society.

Designating critical habitat for federally listed species is important for the recovery of listed species because it clearly identifies the areas essential for their recovery. These critical habitat maps are essential to providing information for statewide and local conservation planning efforts. “The decision to eliminate nearly 1 million acres of vernal pool critical habitat, including lands in Fresno, Placer, San Luis Obispo, Stanislaus, and Tehama counties, may very well prevent the recovery of these 15 imperiled species,” stated Kim Delfino, California Program Director, Defenders of Wildlife. “At a minimum, it means its open season again for developers for those excluded vernal pool grasslands,” continued Delfino.

If recovery is to occur, the remaining range of the 15 vernal pool species must not only be protected, it must expand. Vernal pools are unique depressional wetlands that fill and dry every year. The eight endangered and seven threatened species are currently listed due to the severity of vernal pool destruction in California and Oregon. As the 2002 Proposed Rule indicated, noted vernal pool expert Robert Holland estimates that close to 75% of the Central Valley’s vernal pool habitat was lost by 1997; the central coast has lost at a minimum 90%; southern California’s losses exceed 95%; and Oregon has had 60% destroyed with 18% of the extant habitat considered intact (2002). More recent estimates place the habitat losses at over 90% throughout the historic range of vernal pools (Wright 2002).

Contacts
Butte Environmental Council
Barbara Vlamis, Executive Director
(530) 891-6424

California Native Plant Society
Carol Witham, President
(916) 452-5440

Defenders of Wildlife
Kim Delfino, California Program Coordinator
(916) 313-5800

San Joaquin Raptor and Wildlife Rescue Center
Lydia Miller, President
(209) 723-9283

Vernalpools.Org
Carol Witham
(916) 452-5440

Sierra Foothillls Audubon Society
Ed Pandolfino, Placer County Conservation Chair
(916) 486-9174

Background

A January 14, 2002 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirming the protection of four federally listed fresh water crustaceans under the Endangered Species Act. The species were listed under the Endangered Species Act by the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in September 1994. The California Building Industry Association sued to try to reverse the species’ protection in 1995. Two California organizations, the Butte Environmental Council (BEC) and the Environmental Defense Center of Santa Barbara, supported the listings as interveners all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court of Columbia issued the initial ruling on July 29, 1997 that rejected the BIA request to de-list the shrimp, but his decision supported their petition requiring the Service to designate critical habitat for the shrimp species. When the Service failed to respond to the court’s direction, BEC sued on April 12, 2000 for critical habitat designation for the four crustaceans. On February 9, 2001, the District Court for the eastern district of California ordered the Service to complete a final critical habitat designation for the crustaceans. The Service requested an extension of one year past the court ordered deadline and BEC concurred when the negotiations created a more comprehensive benefit for the habitat by including 11 vernal pool plant species.

On August 6, 2003 the Bush administration issued the final critical habitat rule and justified the removal of one million acres and six counties on economic grounds. Their analysis was feeble and concentrated almost exclusively on the economic costs over the economic benefits, illuminating its bias. The list of economic benefits of the critical habitat designation that were ignored by Washington is quite extensive and includes flood control, water quality, tourism, animal husbandry, hunting, recreation, education, and all the species in the food chain. The counties omitted from the 2003 critical habitat designation are: Butte, Madera, Merced, Riverside, Sacramento, & Solano.

The counties with acreage in the 2003 critical habitat designation are: Alameda, Amador, Calaveras, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Mariposa, Mendocino, Modoc, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Plumas, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Joaquin, Shasta, Stanislaus, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo, Yuba, and Jackson County, Oregon.

In January 2004, BEC, the California Native Plant Society, and Defenders of Wildlife filed suit challenging the 2003 VPCH Final Rule over the elimination of more than one million acres of VPCH for the 15 endangered and threatened vernal pool plants and animals and five entire counties.

Table 1. Covered Species Status and Listing Dates

Common Name Scientific Name Date Listed Status
Conservancy fairy shrimp Branchinecta conservatio September 19, 1994 E*
longhorn fairy shrimp Branchinecta longiantenna September 19, 1994 E
vernal pool tadpole shrimp Lepidurus packardi September 19, 1994 E
vernal pool fairy shrimp Branchinecta lynchi September 19, 1994 T*
Butte County meadowfoam Limnanthes floccosa ssp. Californica June 8, 1992 E
Colusa grass Neostapfia colusana March 26, 1997 T
Contra Costa goldfields Lastenia conjugens June 18, 1997 E
Greene's tuctoria Tuctoria greenei March 26, 1997 E
Hairy orcutt Orcuttia pilosa March 26, 1997 E
Hoover’s spurge Chamaesyce hooveri March 26, 1997 T
Sacramento orcutt Orcuttia viscida March 26, 1997 E
San Joaquin Valley orcutt Orcuttia inequalis March 26, 1997 T
Slender orcutt Orcuttia tenuis March 26, 1997 T
Solano grass Tuctoria mucronata September 28, 1978 E
Succulent (or fleshy) owl's clover Castilleja campestris ssp. succunlenta
March 26, 1997 T
(E* = endangered; T*=threatened)

Table 2. 2005 Rule acreage restored to counties indiscriminately omitted in the 2003 rule

County Proposed Acreage 2003 Rule Acreage 2005 Rule Acreage
Butte 58,849 0 24,247
Madera 95,802 0 48,359
Merced 194,335 0 147,638
Sacramento 68,820 0 37,098
Solano 67,961 0 13,415

Table 3. Counties that lost the valuable VPCH designation in the 2005 Rule

County Proposed Acreage 2003 Rule Acreage 2005 Rule Acreage
Fresno 32,218 32,228 19,200
Placer 58,849 32,134 2,580
San Luis Obispo 64,171 64,378 48,134
Stanislaus 132,708 128,035 67,462
Tehama 130,752 130,691 102,837

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Higher education as if students mattered?

Submitted: Dec 11, 2005

The study just released by the University of California, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” (1) is a particularly specious bit of UC/corporate flak, reminiscent of the campaign for UC Merced. The study argues that if you have more college-educated people in your society, you will have less crime and more high-paying jobs. Many economists would suggest that job demand has something to do with the equation – but they didn’t get this grant. A supply of college-educated people of working age less than the job demand for them could be a recipe for extreme job competition, lower wages, higher rates of turnover, social discontent and emigration of a significant portion of a workforce whose education was subsidized by taxpayers. Since what is meant by education in this study is technological training, it’s fair to ask how Californians with technological training compete today with Indians and Asians with comparable training. Ask Silicon Valley, which has been off-shoring California jobs to India and Asia for several decades, as well as importing foreign high tech workers to the Peninsula. San Jose is today a true city of the world, a place larger than California, attracting the best and brightest technological workers of the world.

Training, inventiveness, intelligence and education aren’t the problems facing California. Funded by a group calling itself the Campaign for College Opportunity, which appears to be a front group for the California Business Roundtable, once again, UC is taking an opportunity to recycle unreliable demographic data to make a case for more public spending on UC, with a bit left over for the lesser public institutions of higher learning.

People are tired of this nonsense. It is highly conspicuous waste, meant to doll up a class of “leaders” for their next honoraria. The study was commissioned by the business roundtable, a cabal of banks, insurance companies, developers, land companies, energy companies, construction and engineering firms and miscellaneously wealthy companies like Gap and J.G. Boswell, involved in the world, cotton trade, and the J. Paul Getty Trust, headed by Barry Munitz, former Charles Hurwitz associate and (“chainsaw”) chancellor of the CSU system. The intervening group, Campaign for College Opportunity, is headed by the roundtable’s president, includes a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce vice president, several university officials, a UC regent, union officials and minority group representatives. But the state taxpayers paid for the salaries of the UC researchers to pimp the next college/university building boom, based on demographic assumptions already dubious when they were used to sell UC Merced (2). But, at least then, we knew they were just the usual state Department of Finance figures to support the coming speculative housing bubble. That is now rapidly fading. Evidently, the study indulges in them only because it can. Apparently, it is a UC affectation to demand more public funds, pay exorbitant executive salaries (3), sell its services to whatever the corporate buyer demands, and all without any responsibility to the public that pays for the salaries, the maintenance, repair, and for the thousands of other services, plants and equipment that go to making up public institutions of higher learning from the community college outpost in the remote rural town to UC Berkeley.

Perhaps the cogent business reason for promoting another higher education building boom, paid for by the public, is because new colleges and universities, particularly if located in remote areas, attract suburban development like stables attract horse flies.

Perhaps, the state’s enlightened business roundtable, representing 56 corporations, almost half on the Fortune 500 list, believe that it is essential for us to pay for enough new public higher education institutions so that not one – not one! – potential bio-technician or computer engineer escapes his or her destiny to be trained for entrance into the “new economy;” so that not one potential mortgage lender, predatory credit-card enabler, insurance agent or realtor will slip through the system to become a bum, a mechanic or a handiman in this economy, which our business leaders assure us will continue, generation after generation, through levee breaks, global warming, oil peak, waves of immigration and global competition. We should pay through taxes, tuitions and living expenses to educate the next generation so that not one, but five or ten shall be trained identically, to cut each others’ throats in the high-tech job marketplace of the eternally affluent future of technocracy, sure to continue if only we believe our universities, our business leaders and those they employ in elective governmental posts.

Since the propaganda is coming down so hard on us from this source, I think it might be fair for the public to request that California corporations clean up our air and water, stop building more slurbs, build colleges and universities in other states, subsidize our deprived youth to attend them, pay off the current state budget deficit, and provide adequate energy supplies as long as possible at non-profit rates.

At a time when the state treasury rests firmly in the hands of Wall Street, when rich Californians are not even taxed at the normal level prior to 1993, our business leaders urge more public investment in higher education. Following a period of immense profit-taking, unable to wrap themselves in the flag (sullied by total failure in Iraq), they wrap themselves in the Blue and Gold, the priestly garb of a public university reported to have misplaced 600 pounds of plutonium (3), another $6 million of public funds at Los Alamos National Laboratory (4), and the “distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative stipends, bonuses and other hidden cash compensation to employees” to be investigated by the Legislature in January (3).

Education as if the state’s youth mattered might begin by designing a curriculum around what they will need to survive the economy bequeathed them by our business leaders? This would involve the question: what does California society need from business rather than what business needs from society? This might lead to concerns about the problem of quality of life rather than income levels, in world where even stolen resources are rapidly shrinking and life satisfaction might well have to be found in living a life “simple in means, rich in ends,” as philosopher Arne Naess puts it. The problem of how to educate a generation of youth to face – not just the diminished expectations of our generation – but the radically diminished expectations compelled by resource depletion on theirs – would be worthy of a public university. But that might require a university that felt itself under some obligation to tell the truth to the people of the state rather than to flak its corporate funders’ line. It would require a look at where we are, rather than at the “statistical fantasies” offered by this study. (5)

By contrast, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” seems redolent with privileged irresponsibility, people saying things because they can merely because they are who they are – the ones who got the grant. Perhaps it is a fashionably conspicuous form of madness cultivated in leading academic circles these days.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) http://www.collegecampaign.org/CalROI-ExSum.pdf
(2) http://www.csun.edu/~hfoao102/@csun.edu/csun97_98/csun0223_98/features/wave.html

Said Paul Warren, director of the LAO's education division, "The academic world is saying, 'Panic, panic, panic.' We're saying it's not time to panic.

(3) www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/ c/a/2005/11/30/BAGGQFVT7J1.DTL
(4) www.californiaaggie.com/article/?id=7299
(5) http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/columns/walters/story/13949532p-14784215c.html

The notion of studying the costs and benefits of public higher education is plausible. We should know what maintaining the system is costing taxpayers, what economic benefits flow to society and students from those dollars and what the eventual return to taxpayers might be. We should also be told how the public colleges and universities fit into the state's largely private economy - whether they are training the right number of professionals in the right kinds of fields, for instance, or whether their research is enhancing job creation.

Finally, we should know whether higher and lower education systems, maintained by taxpayers at immense cost - well over $60 billion a year - are meshing well or are wasting money on turf battles and incompatible priorities.

UC professors Henry Brady and Michael Hout, however, merely assume that attending college is a societal benefit and amass their synthetic evidence.

"California is sliding from exceptional to ordinary, from 'great' to 'good enough' (and) our study shows that educational investments can help restore California's greatness and preserve its high quality of life while returning more benefits to the state than they will cost the taxpayers," Brady said in a statement.

Brady and Hout don't tell us whether the economy could absorb the increased number of college attendees and graduates they advocate, or even whether there are substantially more youngsters capable of doing college-level work. While decrying the decline in California's high school graduation and college education rates in relation to other states, they don't explore the factors, such as the huge increase in non-English-speaking students or the immense changes in the California economy, that contribute to those trends. They assume, more or less, that there are many millions of Californians who would attend college if only the taxpayers would foot the bill and that expansion would generate big economic returns.

Finally, Brady and Hout fail to explain this phenomenon: There's no apparent shortage of college-trained workers in California (except in a few highly technical fields), but employers are having a heck of a time recruiting cops, carpenters, nurses, electricians, auto mechanics - even truck drivers. Who's going to do the real work if everyone is getting a college degree?

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The Board

Submitted: Dec 03, 2005

A limited partnership of politicians, developers, agribusiness corporations and the University of California, Merced, appear to have established a unified board of directors composed of three divisions: founding members of the UC Merced Foundation board of trustees, the Great Valley Center board of directors and staff, and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, recently appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In mid-November, UC Merced and the Great Valley Center announced they had merged and that UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey would become the chairman of a downsized GVC board of directors. (1)

Viewed from the perspective of the on-going ecological crisis in the Valley, this group would appear to have been assembled around common interests: the defeat of environmental laws, regulations and local, state and federal agencies mandated to enforce them, dismantling the Valley’s agricultural economy except for its largest agribusiness corporations, and promoting the expansion of UC Merced. This interlocking board of directors is a formidable array of political influence, money and propaganda capacity. Powerful synergies of propaganda, lobbying and funds probably will develop to mold Valley public opinion to accept the worst air pollution in the nation, diminished water supply and quality, the loss of prime farmland, open space and wildlife habitat, the linking of one continual slurb from Stockton to Bakersfield, and UC Merced research guided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in directions both ethically and ecologically offensive.

Some of the problems The Board faces immediately:

Although UC has built the first phase of its Merced campus, federal environmental regulations forced it off the originally donated land of the Virginia Smith Trust onto the former site of a municipal golf course. UC Merced has yet to get federal approval for its plans under the Clean Water Act, regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The regional water quality board rejected Hilmar Cheese’ proposed solution to on-going violations of water quality standards, provoking the ‘world’s largest cheesemaker’ to announce plans to build an even larger plant in Texas. (2)

The San Joaquin Valley is growing almost as fast as Mexico, considerably faster than either California or the US. (3) The worst air-polluted parts of the Valley, mainly around Fresno, now experience endemic child asthma, the highest rates in the state. (4) Sixty percent of the problem is from mobile emissions, the rest from stationary sources. Lately, it has been admitted that dairies are the leading stationary source of air pollution. The growth of the Valley dairy industry is second only to the growth of suburbanization (building sprawling, low-density residential areas also known as slurbs). What is routinely denied about dairy pollution is the contribution of daily, diesel-fueled milk truck traffic. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District also has been looking at charging an air-pollution fee on new construction. And the state Water Reclamation Board recently started to question development on flood plains near Delta levees.

The Valley Board is disturbed by this “unbalanced” regulation.

Then, there is the national political embarrassment of the north Valley congressional delegation, known by local farmers as “O Pomboza," formerly representatives RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

A forthright approach to environmental problems was pioneered last spring by board member Greenlaw “Fritz” Grupe, a prominent San Joaquin County developer. Grupe assembled developers at his Lodi ranch for a joint political fundraiser for O Pomboza. Not long after the fundraiser, the two congressmen jointly authored a bill to gut the Endangered Species Act, with particular attention to critical habitat designations, because their joined districts contain extensive critical habitat for 15 endangered species associated with seasonal wetlands. UC Merced is built on and wishes to expand on the densest concentration of vernal pools in the nation.

Beyond the Pomboza problem, the period of one-party Republican rule seems to be running off its tracks and corruption investigations are becoming popular again. These are stressful times for special interests because it may become unpopular as well as illegal again to actually buy a politician. Public opinion may resent, at least for awhile, the daily spectacle of the richest, most powerful interests purchasing votes from elected toadies, "cultivating leadership," and the whole seedy story of how money buys power to make more money. The fathomless propaganda resources of UC could be invaluable at such a time.

The possibilities for networking and "synergy" (this year's replacement for the old standby -- "win-win, public/private partnerships) on The Board are beyond imagination, however its Executive Committee, composed of those who sit on more than one of its divisions, is small.

Tony Coelho, the former Democratic congressman from Merced, is a member of the founding board of trustees of UC Merced and of the board of Great Valley Center. In his position as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Coelho was so spectacularly corrupt that an ethics committee when his own party controlled the House, investigated personal loans he received from Michael Milken. Wall Street Journal reporter Brooks Jackson wrote a book about Coelho, called Honest Graft. (5) It’s not well read in the Valley, but The Board knows the story well because prominent members were involved. Coelho, like Tom DeLay and other House members currently under investigation, was a political entrepreneur. He may have thought of himself as a pioneer in the theory that politics was just another business, but Jackson reminded us that in fact, Coelho and the Republican campaign funders against whom he competed were just reproducing the political conditions of the McKinley Era, so highly prized by Karl Rove 20 years after Coelho left. Jackson said of Coelho: “In a healthier political setting Coelho could well have become Speaker of the House, possibly a great one. He deserved a better system. So do we all.” (6)

However, his career from beginning to end was shaped by the Valley political system, in which Valley special interests contributed large amounts of money, often to coastal liberal Democratic machines, in return for promises of support on key special interest legislation and to keep liberal policies out of the Valley.

Coelho quit Congress and went to Wall Street. Ecologically, he is known for trying to get two projects into the Valley that environmentalists defeated: a United Technologies rocket factory and a super-collider. According to reliable rumor, he was frequently summoned by Valley interest groups to explain complex issues to his successor, Gary Condit, and Coelho was deeply involved, from the beginning, with siting UC Merced.

He is a brilliant, energetic politician whose ambitions drove him to rise and fall and rise again in local and national political systems none of us deserve.

Grupe was also a member of the founding board of trustees of UC Merced Foundation and last month the governor appointed him deputy chair of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Since 1966, one of Stockton’s two major developers, Grupe now has other credentials. He is a member of the advisory board of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley; and he was past-president and current member of the Urban Land Institute. But Grupe is on The Board because he's a charter member of the political economic system neither Coelho nor we deserved.

Carol Whiteside, founder and president of Great Valley Center, was also a founding member of the UC Merced Foundation. She served on Pete Wilson’s staff and was appointed by him assistant secretary of the state Resources Agency. As mayor of Modesto, Whiteside presided over that city’s most rapid growth period.

Rayburn Dezember, of Bakersfield, currently serves as a director of the Bakersfield Californian and Trustee of the University of California, Merced Foundation. He previously served as chairman of American National Bank from 1966 to 1990, director of Wells Fargo Bank from 1990-1999, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 1984 to 1989 and director of Tejon Ranch Company from 1990-2002. The governor appointed him to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Plans to develop a $57-billion new city on the Tejon Ranch threaten the habitat of one of America’s most endangered species, the California Condor, along with a host of other wildlife species located on the largest piece of private property left in the state. Dezember’s local newspaper, the Californian, has long had a reputation as one of the most rightwing papers in the state.

By chance, it was avian rehabilitators from Merced who started the original Condor Project to save the giant, nearly extinct birds. To date, $35 million has been spent to rescue the condor from extinction. (7) On paper, Dezember is pro-growth, anti-air quality and environment – bad for Bakersfield, bad for the Valley, but a Republican and no doubt excellent contributor to the Hun.

Frederick Ruiz, in the words of a Hun press release, is from “Parlier, has over 40 years experience in the food processing industry. He and his father founded Ruiz Foods in 1964. He has served as a member of the University of California, Board of Regents since 2004. In addition, Ruiz is currently on the board of directors for the California Chamber of Commerce, a trustee on the University of Merced Foundation, a member of the President's Advisory Board of California State University Fresno and a member of Valley CAN ‘Clean Air Now.’ Ruiz is a Republican.”

The Hun replaced Dolores Huerta on the UC regents’ board with Ruiz. Huerta was co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers. Two conjectures: although Huerta looks like a union socialist and Ruiz like an entrepreneurial capitalist, Ruiz Foods received more federal and state grant and loan funding than the UFW ever did; Huerta’s brilliant, committed and sustained community organizing, mainly on behalf of Latino communities in the Valley, did more good for Ruiz Foods than Ruiz Foods ever did for working people who want unions.

Daniel Whitehurst, president, Farewell, Inc. Fresno, was on the founding board of trustees of the UC Merced Foundation and is a member of the GVC board. Whitehurst is a member of a Fresno-based family of extremely political morticians, people of influence since at least the time of late state Sen. Hugh Burns, with old connections to the west side of the Valley.

The Garamendi family presents nearly a two-fer because John Sr., the state Insurance Commissioner now running for state Lt. Governor, is a member of the founding board of the UC Merced Foundation and John, Jr. was appointed vice chancellor for University Relations at UC Merced in June. Family values are important in the Valley.

Agribusiness holds only single memberships, mainly on the UC Merced Foundation board. (8)

Chuck Ahlem, Partner, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar
H.A. "Gus" Collin, Chairman, Sunsweet Growers, Inc., Yuba City
Robert Gallo, President, E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto
John Harris, President, Harris Farms and Harris Inns, Coalinga
William Lyons, Sr., President, Lyons Investments and Mapes Ranch, Modesto
Thomas Smith, President, CALCOT, Bakersfield
Ann Veneman, Attorney at Law, Sacramento (former Secretary of the USDA)
Roger Wood, Vice President, J.R. Wood, Inc., Atwater;
Stewart Woolf, President, Los Gatos Tomato, Inc., Huron

There is a scattering of agricultural producers on the UC Merced Foundation board, along with local businessmen and large landowners:

Carl Cavaiani, President, Santa Fe Nut Company, Ballico
Bert Crane Sr., President, Bert Crane Ranches, Merced;
Jim Cunningham, owner, Cunningham Ranch, LeGrand
James Duarte, President, Duarte Nursery, Inc., Hughson
Price Giffen, President, Giffen Company, Fresno
Art Kamangar, Kamangar Ranches, Merced

Other members include retired UC officials, Silicon Valley executives, lawyers, developers, other educators, investors, public officials and local business people. The Board includes no one from any local, state or national environmental organization. In fact, The Board looks like a special interest reaction against environmental, public health, economic and agricultural concerns to protect its rapid growth strategies. It also looks like a non-elected government.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11495660p-12233968c.html
(2) http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/13919592p-14757777c.html
(3) Dr. Michael Teitz, presentation at Merced City Council Chambers, Dec. 1, 2005
(4) http://www.valleyairquality.com/
(5) Jackson, Brooks, Honest Graft, Knopf, 1988.
(6) Jackson, p. 6
(7) http://www.laweekly.com/ink/05/13/features-zakin.php
(8) http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2000/march1700.htm

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Novel legal theory

Submitted: Dec 02, 2005
Nakayama also forgot to mention that the Bush administration has rewritten the very rules used to prosecute those companies. The Bush version of the rules, which would let power companies off the hook, is being challenged in court by numerous state attorneys general, as well as environmental groups.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for the Bush administration to try to take credit today for enforcing the Clean Air Act's new source review provisions,” notes Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “The Bush EPA has been working overtime to change the underlying clean air rules and prevent such enforcement actions from being brought against dirty power plants in the future."

Nakayama also failed to note that the Bush administration is not only trying to change the rules, but that it recently declared that it would not even enforce the law against the power industry—a move the administration euphemistically described as an effort to “refocus” its activities.

Some big polluters have become so encouraged that they’ve gone to court to seek dismissal of pending charges. It’s as if someone awaiting trial for murder sought freedom on the grounds that prosecutors were going to look the other way in future murder cases. – Frank O’Donnell, TomPaine.com – Dec. 2, 2005

Big polluters and environment destroyers are operating under a new legal theory: if legislation weakening environmental law and regulation might have been pending when they committed their illegal acts under existing law, they might be able to skate. For people interested in rural excursions in Merced County, a trip down White Rock Road in Le Grand from the entrance to the Jaxon Mine all the way to the Madera County line at the Chowchilla River would reveal interesting examples of projects that assume this new legal theory. The idea behind the deep ripping of thousands of acres of seasonal pasture containing protected wildlife habitat seems to be that the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act bill by Congressman R.D. Pomboza, Species Slayer-Tracy/Merced, could get through the Senate, so “let her rip.”

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

Polluter Playtime (1)
Frank O'Donnell
December 02, 2005

Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a 501 (c) 3 non-partisan, non-profit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.

In a move virtually unnoticed by the press corps, the Bush administration this week quietly dropped a lawsuit against a big electric power company.

The suit against Duke Power Company was brought by the Clinton administration, which accused Duke of illegally spewing too much pollution into the air. The Bush team initially gave lip service to continuing the suit, but it shelved the case after a setback in a lower court.

In the process, the administration demonstrated a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly apparent: For a government seemingly obsessed with promoting the “rule of law” everywhere from Iraq to Mongolia, the Bush administration can be pretty loose when it comes to enforcing the law back home.

Especially when it comes to enforcing environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act.

Whether it’s dealing with coal-burning electric plants in the Midwest or auto emission inspections in Ohio and Kentucky, the administration has decided it won’t even attempt to enforce the law if it seems inconvenient to big polluters or to Republican-controlled state governments.

This isn’t a trivial matter. Hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Americans are dying unnecessarily each year as a direct result of the administration’s cavalier disregard for the law.

The administration’s negligence is perhaps topped only by its brazenly false claims about its enforcement prowess. Consider, for example, the hypocritical assertions made last month by Granta Nakayama, the Environmental Protection Agency’s head of enforcement, as the agency issued a status report on its enforcement efforts.

Nakayama (who, until recently, was a corporate lawyer-lobbyist paid to undermine clean air controls) contended that “EPA's enforcement strategy and accomplishments demonstrate our commitment to achieving cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities."

To back his claim, Nakayama cited 10 recently resolved air pollution cases against corporate polluters. Those 10 cases would eliminate 620 million pounds of pollution and bring more than $4.6 billion in public health benefits, including “reductions in premature mortality, bronchitis, hospitalizations and work days lost.”

What Nakayama left out was that half of the results came from cases brought by the Clinton administration. These were prosecutions of electric power companies that violated the law’s “new source review” provisions, which require smokestack industries to modernize pollution controls when they increase emissions.

Nakayama also forgot to mention that the Bush administration has rewritten the very rules used to prosecute those companies. The Bush version of the rules, which would let power companies off the hook, is being challenged in court by numerous state attorneys general, as well as environmental groups.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for the Bush administration to try to take credit today for enforcing the Clean Air Act's new source review provisions,” notes Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “The Bush EPA has been working overtime to change the underlying clean air rules and prevent such enforcement actions from being brought against dirty power plants in the future."

Nakayama also failed to note that the Bush administration is not only trying to change the rules, but that it recently declared that it would not even enforce the law against the power industry—a move the administration euphemistically described as an effort to “refocus” its activities.

Some big polluters have become so encouraged that they’ve gone to court to seek dismissal of pending charges. It’s as if someone awaiting trial for murder sought freedom on the grounds that prosecutors were going to look the other way in future murder cases.

Take, for example, Cinergy, the conglomerate that provides electric power in Ohio and Indiana. Five years ago—in December 2000—Cinergy reached an agreement in principle with the Clinton administration, which had accused it of violating new source review. Cinergy pledged at the time to reduce 1 billion pounds of pollution—more, in other words—than all the “top 10” cases combined that Nakayama boasted about.

But after the 2000 elections, the company refused to sign the deal. Now, Cinergy is asking a court to dismiss the charges because of the Bush administration’s decision not to enforce the law against other companies. Cinergy no doubt will be encouraged by the administration’s change of heart in the Duke case.

The “refocused” Bush policy of non-enforcement unfortunately is spreading like the avian flu to other sources of pollution.

For instance, the states of Kentucky and Ohio recently decided to abolish auto emission inspections in the Cincinnati metropolitan area even though an American Lung Association report documented the area had 19 days this summer with unhealthful air quality.

Auto inspections do help reduce pollution, and EPA rules stipulate that smoggy states such as Ohio and Kentucky can’t just scrap pollution control programs that they don’t like. Except that, once again, the EPA says it’s not going to enforce the law.

“Illegal and irresponsible,” is how the American Lung Association describes the situation.

So you do have to marvel at the chutzpah of an EPA spokeswoman, who recently declared that, “We will continue to rigorously enforce any violations of the nation’s clean air laws.”

Except, that is, when the Bush administration doesn’t feel like it.

Notes

(1) http://www.tompaine.com/articles/20051202/polluter_playtime.php

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What happened on the way to San Francisco on Thanskgiving

Submitted: Nov 27, 2005

Could it be because the land near the Delta is so rich that despite what is happening on it, somehow not all people believe in the eternity of growth?

It is foolish to become upset about the changes out there in western San Joaquin County approaching the Altamont. One should never become upset about such changes. People too attached to the beauties of Nature suffer too much to live in California. They ought to go join the woman in the town in Nebraska who runs the bar, is the mayor, taxes herself, is the only resident since her husband passed away, and deer wander down her Main Street. Perhaps she would agree to rename the town “New California,” create bike trails, open an organic health-food store and galleries for the painters. The Californians could create in her town the utopia of all their memories of Ecotopia Lost.

Yes, I know the answer to Arne Naess’ question:

“How would mankind’s present role on this planet be evaluated in the light of philosophical world-views of the past?”

(I know it because I read the next sentence.)

“No matter which one of the great philosophies one considers to be valid, our current role would be evaluated negatively. It is in opposition to value priority as announced by these philosophies. This applies to Aristotelianism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other great philosophies of the last two millennia.”

(Don’t forget to add a zendo on Main Street to New California, Neb.)

“In the great philosophies, greatness and bigness are differentiated. Greatness is sought, but it is not magnitude. The importance of technology is recognized, but cultural values get priority of consideration. The good life is not made dependent upon thoughtless consumption.” (1)

Perhaps it is something about the air the comes off that unfathomable Delta bottom land between Manteca and the Altamont, something about the incredible fecundity of it, that inspires such dreams of greatness (unenlightened by Aristotle, Buddha or Confucius, or Laotse, Boethius, Avicenna, Nicolas of Cusa, St. Thomas, Moses Maimonides, Spinoza, Bacon, Hume, Hegel, Dilthey, James, Dewey, Husserl or Heidegger for that matter), when you live on top of San Joaquin Delta bottom land. All you really need is a big Caterpillar and diesel enough to plant anything from alfalfa to a commuter subdivision.

Of course, the area has been known to flood at times. In fact, that’s what makes the land so fertile. But levees exist to stop flooding now. The main point is that almost anything grows there.

There was a town out there once, called Tracy. It was a long, gangling town that grew up beside the highway, only a few blocks deep on either side. It had a city hall, a high school, some cafes and small businesses, a newspaper, and an old hotel that served the best steak sandwich in the north valley. I suppose that town is still there somewhere, but I worked around that area several years ago and could never quite find it.
The disappearance of Tracy is nothing to get upset about. Remember, one shouldn’t get upset over these things. If one does, it is time to go to Nebraska. Actually, I worked within the city limits of the present-day Tracy and never even found the old highway through the old town.

The land is incredibly rich. It grows anything.

This weekend, our nation’s newspaper of record, Judith Miller’s publisher, the New York Times, lambasted a son of Tracy, Rep. Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, for a bill he’s pushing to sell off mining claims on public lands. (2) The Times editorialists describe this bill as “an evil trap to be sprung on the American public: Richard Pombo’s plan to put a few hundred million acres of publicly owned land up for sale in the American West.”

Setting aside that the New York Times’ sentiments about the American West are about as warm as they are for the Arab Middle East, what we seem to have here is part of a national campaign against Pombo, a simple ranch realtor who believes in his heart that western rural land exists to be sold, as many times as possible for a decent fee, and has never said otherwise. Because various environmental laws, regulations and agencies impede his quest, he hates them and seeks, in a straightforward manner, to destroy them.

While it is possible to join Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius and Naess in disagreeing with Pombo’s simple view of life in all its porcine sincerity, evil it ain’t, it seems to me. Evil is publishing cooked intelligence that causes the deaths of thousands of innocent people and more than 2,000 American soldiers plus the 15,000 wounded.

Pombo’s worldview is something else. I think it might come from the idea that the “real world” – rightwingers are very big on the “real world” – is only what one owns or has options on, and that concepts like “the planet” just don’t fly in Tracy the way they do in Manhattan. I mean that, not too long ago, back when Tracy was still a long, thin town on a highway, if a couple of longhairs went into one of those cafes for a cup of coffee and started talking “planet,” it could have gotten ugly for them. Because the world, in Tracy, was what you owned (and it still is for those who still own it). If you don’t own any land, in Pombo’s world, there may even be some doubt about your existence, let alone your right to vote. And that land around Tracy is so fertile, who would want anything more? In fact, everyone ought to go to Tracy and buy land … from Pombo. If people only realized this, there would be less disagreeable strife about natural resources in the nation.

For example, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez (across the river from Tracy), the former chairman of a defunct House committee called Natural Resources, should quit sniping and buy pasture while he still can. Miller and Pombo should bury the hatchet over a nice real estate deed. Maybe the New York Times should get in the deal, too.

The land in Pombo’s district is fabulously fertile. It grows anything. Whole bedroom communities spring up there like Johnson grass. It’s amazing. Growth in that region is as inevitable as … well, you know, growth. There’s nothing more inevitable than growth. The alfalfa grows. The tomatoes grow. The subdivisions grow. Everything grows in the incredibly fertile congressional district of Pombo.

Well, maybe except for freeways. It’s not that they haven’t tried to pave everything from Manteca to the Altamont into one Great Road, but it’s a government deal and there are some rivers involved, so they haven’t quite gotten there yet. There are still some pastures and farmland and funky old bridges that distract from the view of the road. If you know where to look (people who have traveled through the area for 40 or 50 years do know) you can still see houseboats and a few other remnants of pre-Pombo primitive existence, which should have been paved over by government long ago. But most people don’t look and if they did, would be offended by the faintly gypsy air of such camps, floating or not, and might complain to a county supervisor about the viewscape they are forced to endure daily on their way to work in the Bay Area.

There is even an old brick silo that used to have a sign on it saying, “Horses for sale.” If it upsets you that you can’t see that sign anymore, you are a candidate for Nebraska. If you can’t maintain, control yourself and refrain from blogging or some such nonsense, go open an antique store on the prairie, and see how your life unfolds. Study the joys of quality of life instead of the standard of living. (3) This is the 11th Congressional District of California: we’re talking standard of living here, to be achieved through land deals, because our land grows anything (unlike the Nebraska prairie, which our developers wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot poll).

So, it gets a little crowded sometimes on the inadequate freeways around Tracy. Pombo wants to cut another one south of the Altamont through a Coast Range canyon straight to Silicon Valley. But that’s a government deal. Actually, some people call it “pork,” an unattractive term for government investment in your congressional district (things like UC Merced, etc.). And Pombo don’t like government. That’s why he’s in government: to stop government.

It doesn’t matter. In his district, the soil is so rich it grows anything but contradictions.

Traffic was thick on Thanksgiving. It just crawled, in both directions, from outside of Manteca all the way into and through Tracy, almost all the way to the Altamont. Growth, it’s beautiful. In the middle of Tracy, on a balcony in one of those subdivisions that loom over the road, a woman stood, a cell phone in one hand, while her other arm made a regular, semaphoric motion, up and down, perpendicular to the traffic. She must have been counting her blessing with each stroke, because there she was, in the Middle of Growth, rejoicing in her standard of living, even as we transients were cursing the quality of our lives. It’s all an optical illusion. From above the freeway, on the balcony of a condominium, it’s all standard of living. Down on the road, it’s all quality of life.

From the road, Ms. Semaphore seemed demented, actually, perhaps deranged by philosophical contemplation of the problems arising from the relationship of standard of living to quality of life. In short, an urban transplant to soil that grows absolutely anything. But again, that’s only the opinion of a driver.

On the other side of the freeway from this particular strand of highway jammed with crawling traffic in both directions, lies (for the time being) a clear expanse of farmland, mostly in alfalfa, that runs to the river, a fair distance away, its riparian corridor of oaks barely visible on that overcast day. We don’t eat alfalfa, of course, although its sprouts might be offered in the health store on Main Street of New California, Neb. Cows eat alfalfa, and California is the largest dairy state in the country and those dairies are concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley.

So, while the southern edge of the freeway in those parts is composed of a sound barrier over which peek the balconies of commuter villages, the view to the north preserves the agrarian heritage of the region.

As we crawled onward, I spent my time looking at alfalfa and the irrigation-canal laterals that water it. These are not timeless scenes because I am not a timeless being, nor were the two snowy egrets timeless, bent over, eyes to the wet earth, hunting in a field. However, they reminded me of a time when these roads were not jammed bumper-to-bumper, the fields surrounded the road, there were many more egrets and other birds in the area, and that part of the trip to the Bay Area, particularly in the cold of early winter, was a drive through the abundant natural life of western San Joaquin County.

Due to the abstraction of my own philosophical contemplation, I was not surprised when Don Quixote appeared on horseback, his horse standing on a little hump next to a lateral dividing an alfalfa field from pasture. Why not? I wondered. This Delta land grows anything. As I grew closer to the horseman, I began to suspect it really wasn’t Don Quixote – the man was a little too stocky—and the horse, a flashy pinto, was a bit too athletic for Rocinante, exactly. Yet …

Here was a horseman. He was wearing neither a Pombo drugstore/political cowboy hat nor a medieval barber’s basin, but a bent farm cap, just like an ordinary horseman. Perhaps the sorcerers were at work. Sancho? I thought. The pinto argued against Sancho, who rode a donkey. But, as the real Don Quixote teaches, you just can’t tell as long as there are sorcerers in the world. And they are everywhere.

The horseman wore a dark mustache, another Sancho-esque feature. But Sancho would never have ridden this horse, which kept tossing its head as its rider kept raising his right arm in a salute to the freeway. Perhaps the reason the horse tossed its head was because each time the rider raised his right arm in salute, a quirt looped over his wrist came into view.

In the two days since Thanksgiving, I have given more credence to the idea of a stocky Knight of the Sad Countenance than to the squire on the strength of the insane repetition of the salute. (This, of course, is the interpretation of a perfectly sane man driving to San Francisco on Thanksgiving in very heavy traffic, already an hour late for lunch with his 90-year-old mother.) Yet, finally, as I turn over the event once more in my mind, I am not sure if the man was insane or if he was perhaps mocking us. He may even have been trying to teach his horse something about freeways that every horse should know.

No, finally, I don’t know what that horseman was doing there, repeatedly raising his right hand in salute to the freeway, a quirt looped on his wrist. But he seemed to be looking at us as if he knew us. At least some of us felt that he might know us, which is why so many of us honked and waved.

I admit the vague thought entered my mind that perhaps it was Pombo himself, watching the vast herds pass through, counting cars like trail bosses of old counted cows in a canyon somewhere south of the railhead. Or perhaps it was a new, ambiguous, picaresque style of campaigning.

The traffic picked up speed after we had honked and waved at the horseman. Afraid I might be in for a crawl all the way to the Bay Bridge, I’d turned on the radio and had received a very detailed description of a traffic jam in Napa County. However, just as we got to normal speed, the announcer mentioned that a woman had called from Tracy to complain about some cowboy slowing traffic all the way through town. Probably a Democrat.

But, party affiliation aside, at last a grounded person had explained the situation. The horseman was just an obstruction of traffic, no more than a wreck with victims in stretchers on the side of the road. The proper response was to complain to the radio station. Perhaps the highway patrol would send somebody to arrest him and his horse for obstructing traffic. That would be the right thing to do. The traffic must go on, you see. Nothing must be allowed to impede it.

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

Notes:

(1) Ecology, community and lifestyle, Arne Naess (translated and edited by David Rothenberg), Cambridge, 1989, p.87

(2) Privatizing the American West...Editorial
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/26/opinion/26sat3.html?pagewanted=print
While lawmakers are in recess, it is worth reflecting on one particular part of the mess they have left behind. Mr. Pombo is head of the House Resources Committee and has long been determined to privatize as much of the West as he can lay his hands on. Last week, a budget bill scraped through the House... The bill has to clear a few more hurdles before becoming the law of the land... Americans have come to understand that America can't drill its way out of dependency on Middle Eastern oil, and that ravaging the Arctic is no substitute for sound energy policy. They also understand that Mr. Pombo's sleight of hand is little more than legislative robbery.

(3) Naess, p. 88

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Mood swings

Submitted: Nov 13, 2005

Planning in Merced, since the University of California first cast its greedy eyes on a large donation of seasonal pastureland north of the county seat, has been dominated by one agenda: the transfer of large rural properties to developer ownership. This is not to say that a number of other things haven’t happened, but the dominant agenda has been this phenomenon: the willing sale of ranch and farmland to developers.

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