Environment

McClatchy-Merced launches investigation of RMP chief John Condren

Submitted: Jan 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is news?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wants the dirt dug up?

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

Why do they want it dug up?

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

Other, more speculative questions include:

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rituals of crooks

Submitted: Jan 25, 2007
Board of Supervisors Chairman John Pedrozo said the meetings help build relationships between leaders who are often busy with conflicting schedules.

"Unless you have these, you can't talk to anyone," he said. "There's never a dull moment." -- Merced Sun-Star, Jan. 24, 2007

Professional criminals are said to indulge in complex rituals to help them to forget the anxieties arising from their difficult vocations. So, too, apparently in Livingston, which held a big bash this week for local political leaders. The article doesn't say who paid for the New York steaks. Considering the state of government in Livingston and the county, it was a question the reporter ought to have at least asked.

Pedrozo's relationship to Livingston is the result of his gerrymandered supervisorial district that runs a little goose neck into the city. By chance, running right through the middle of that goose neck is a mile-long, 42-inch sewer trunk line, built by Greg Hostetler's Ranchwood Homes through the property of Mike Gallo's Joseph Gallo Farms and others.

The legal problems with the permitting of that sewer line are described below, by former Merced County Counsel Ruben Castillo. The letter was written on the day last year that Pedrozo held a town hall meeting in Livingston to discuss the pipeline. A few brick bats were served at that meeting, but no New York steaks. But the purpose of that meeting was to fend off the public, not "build relationships between leaders."

The county issued a stop-work order on the pipeline a week later and Hostetler finished the project. The county claimed it had no prior knowledge about the pipeline, built entirely in county jurisdiction, passing over three county roads and through a Merced Irrigation District canal. The county public works department admitted it knew something about it, but nobody in planning (the agency that issues stop orders) the CEO's office or any supervisors claimed knowing anything about a mile-long, 42-inch sewer trunk line built from the Livingston wastewater treatment plant out into prime farmland terminating near a Ranchwood property until shortly before it was finished.

Rituals are made for situations like this.
------------------

From:
Merced County
Ruben E. Castillo
County Counsel

February 16, 2006

Thomas Hallinan, Jr., City Attorney
City of Livingston
Post Office Box 486
Oakdale, CA 95361
Fax: (209) 847-5515

Re: Sewer Line Trunk Extension

Dear Mr. Hallinan:

I hope you are well. I am taking the opportunity to write to you about a sewer line extension to a proposed future residential development. The extension was approved by the City of Livingston. Unfortunately, there were a number of deficiencies in the City’s approval, and I wanted to alert you to them as one public agency attorney to another.

As I understand the facts, Ranchwood Homes (“Ranchwood”) is extending a 42” pipeline from the waste water treatment facility in the City to the site of Ranchwood’s proposed future residential development. I also understand that Ranchwood is in the conceptual design phase for the development of a residential housing project located in the unincorporated area of the County, partially within and partially outside of the Sphere of Influence of the City. In order to provide future sewer service for the proposed Ranchwood development project, Ranchwood entered into an agreement with the City to design, construct, and dedicate a sewer trunk line from the City’s waste water treatment plant to the proposed project site. This agreement reflects a finding by the City that the project was categorically exempt from CEQA. The agreement was unanimously approved by the City Council on December 21, 2004, but a Notice of Exemption was apparently never filed.

As approved by the City, the project called for the construction of 5,115 lineal feet of trunk sewer line by Ranchwood. The new sewer line would be installed “between the intersection of Gallo Drive/Vinewood Drive easterly and southerly to Peach Avenue. However, as approved, the “entire length of sewer trunk line is outside the City limit line and Sphere of Influence.” The sewer line is “designed to convey future urban sanitary sewer flows from the City to the existing Wastewater Treatment Plant site.” However, “no part of this in-ground project will be connected to the City sewer system until future mixed-use development occurs.” [December 21, 2004, City Staff Report re: Ranchwood Sewer Trunk Line, emphasis added.]

Following approval by the City, Ranchwood acquired easements from private property owners and the County department of public works. The project proceeded and a “dry” sewer trunk line was installed all the way from the waste water treatment plant to just short of Magnolia. At the request of the County, further installation has been stopped, subject to an encroachment permit from the County and compliance with all applicable laws.

Given these facts, I thought it important to share with you our legal view concerning the project. It is the County’s reasoned opinion that the approval of this project by the City does not comport with the City’s jurisdictional authority. Furthermore, it appears to run afoul of the Cortese-Knox Local Government Reorganization Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and general land use and planning law. As County Counsel, I respectfully request that the City take every action to bring its approval of this project into compliance with these laws, including all appropriate environmental analysis, and I further request that the City communicate with and cooperate with the County to make certain this project is carried out in conformance with the law and the jurisdictional authority of each respective public agency.

1. The City had no Power to Approve a Project Outside its Territorial Limits.

As you know, the California Constitution at Article XI, section 7, confers on a city the power to “make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws.” Thus, “[u]nder the police power granted by the Constitution, counties and cities have plenary authority to govern, subject only to the limitation that they exercise this power within their territorial limits and subordinate to state law. (Cal. Const., art. XI, Section 7.) Apart from this limitation, the ‘police power [of a county or city] under this provision . . . is as broad as the police power exercisable by the Legislature itself.’ Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley (1976) 17 Ca. 3d 129, 140 [130 Cal. Rptr. 465, 550 P.2d 1001].” (Candid Enterprises, Inc. v. Grossmont Union High School Dist. (1942) 50 Cal App 2d 374, 122 P2d 965.)

A municipal corporation has generally no extraterritorial powers of regulation. It may not exercise its governmental functions beyond its corporate boundaries. (Von Schmidt v. Widber (1894) 105 Cal 151, 38 P 682; Mulville v. San Diego (1920) 183 Cal 734, 192 P 702; Oakland v. Brock (1937) 8 Cal 2d 639, 67 P2s 344.) The Constitution delegates directly to inferior governmental agencies the police power in their respective localities, provided only that its exercise by any city must be confined to such city. (People v. Taylor (1938) 33 Cal App 2d Supp 760.) A municipal ordinance can have no extraterritorial force unless by express permission of the sovereign power. (Ferran v. Palo Alto (1942) 50 Cal App 2d 374, 122 P2d 965.)

It is only when annexation occurs that the police power transfers from the County to the City. Police power has been given a county and a city, respectively, for exercise only “within its limits” and when land in suit was annexed to city it left territorial jurisdiction of county, ceased to be “within its limits,” and hence was no longer subject to provisions of county zoning ordinance classifying land as residential and limited to single family dwellings. (South San Francisco v. Berry (1953) 120 Cal App 2d 252, 260 P2d 1045.)

2. The Out-of-Boundary Extension of Service Requires Approval by LAFCO.

This sewer line extension should have been approved by LAFCO. As you know, a city that wishes to extend sewer service outside of its jurisdictional boundaries must go to LAFCO;

(a) A city or district may provide new or extended services by contract or agreement outside its jurisdictional boundaries only if it first requests and receives written approval from the commission in the affected county.
(b) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries but within its sphere of influence in anticipation of a later change of organization.
(c) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries and outside its sphere of influence to respond to an existing or impending threat to the public health or safety of the residents of the affected territory if … [certain requirements are met].

(Cal. Gov. Code Section 56133.)

Since the sewer is intended to serve a 300-acre parcel outside the City, it implicates LAFCO’s jurisdiction over an “out of boundary” service extension. (See Ceres v. Modesto (1969) 274 Cal. App. 2d 545.)

3. The California Environmental Quality Act.

In December of 2004, the City made a determination that the sewer line
project was categorically exempt from CEQA. Of course, we do not believe the City ever had jurisdiction to make a valid CEQA determination for land uses on land that is not within its territorial limits.

Nevertheless, the City may have incorrectly applied a statutory exemption, instead of a categorical exemption, to find the project exempt from environmental review. In the review and approval of December 21, 2004, the City stet (sic) on Section 21080.21 of the Public Resources Code to find the project exempt. Section 21080.21 provides:

“This division does not apply to any project of less than one mile in length within a public street or highway or any other public right-of-way for the installation of a new pipeline or the maintenance, repair, restoration, reconditioning, relocation, replacement, removal, or demolition of an existing pipeline. For purposes of this section, “pipeline” includes subsurface facilities but does not include any surface facilities related to the operation of the underground facility.”

Reliance on this section may be misplaced. The total sewer line project greatly exceeds one mile in length. Thus, even though the project – as approved – appears to fit the statute, as the length of the first phase of pipeline installation is 5115 feet, this run afoul of a principle of CEQA that one cannot “piecemeal” a project in order to avoid the applicability of CEQA. (Association for a Cleaner Env’t v. Yosemite Community College Dist. (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 629, 638. A lead agency may not split a single large project into small pieces in order to avoid environmental review of the entire project. Orinda Ass’n v. Board of Supervisors (1986) 182 Cal. App. 3d 1145, 1171.

In the most far-reaching decision on the issue of “piecemealing” development projects, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center successfully set aside an EIR for a housing project in Stanislaus County, based on the failure of the project to include construction of sewer lines and construction of a wastewater treatment plant to serve the project. (San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Ctr. V. County of Stanislaus (1994) 267 Cal. App. 4th 713.) In that case the court relied on 14 Cal. Code Regs. Section 15378 (a) which defines the term “project” as “the whole of an action, which has the potential for resulting in a physical change in the environment, directly or ultimately.” Because the sewer expansion had been proposed to serve a housing project, and the housing project could not proceed without an expansion of sewer service, the court concluded that the expansion was an integral component of the housing project.

Second, the pipeline is not located within a public right-of-way. Instead it is located on private property, from which the City got a number of public easement dedications. The acquisition of easements after approval of the proposed project is not in keeping with the claimed exemption.

In addition, the City did not notify the County of its determination as a responsible agency. CEQA sets a standard of communication and cooperation among responsible government agencies with respect to projects.

Lastly, the City did not file a “notice of Exemption” for the pipeline project. (Pub. Res. Code Section 21108.) Although the filing of such a notice is not required by CEQA, it is the standard practice for California government agencies to do so.

According to PMC, consultant to the City, an EIR is being prepared for the City’s sewer and water master plan and this “project” is probably a part of that master plan. WE are concerned that a project has already been approved and constructed that is (or should be) a part of the larger master planning effort that is currently undergoing environmental review.

4. Livingston’s Actions May Have Violated Government Code section 65402.

Section 65402 (b) of the California Government Code states:

“[A] city shall not acquire real property for any of the purposes specified in paragraph (a), nor dispose of any real property, nor construct or authorize a public building or structure, in another city or in unincorporated territory, if such other city or the county in which such unincorporated territory is situated has adopted a general plan or part thereof and such general plan or part thereof is applicable thereto, until the location, purpose and extent of such acquisition, disposition, or such public building or structure have been submitted to and reported upon by the planning agency having jurisdiction, as to conformity with said adopted general plan or part thereof.”

Thus, the City may not authorize a project within the County until the County has determined its consistency with the County’s general plan. If found to be inconsistent, the city council must vote to overrule it. The County was neither consulted nor has the City taken action to overrule the County general plan on the truck line extension.

CONCLUSION

As you can see from the above, the approval of this project by the City is questionable. The project failed to comport with the City’s jurisdictional authority, the Cortese-Know Local Government Reorganization Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and general land use and planning law.

Your help is sought so that the City may take every lawful action to bring its approval of this project into compliance with these laws, including all appropriate environmental analysis. I also request that the City communicate with and cooperate with the County to make certain this project is carried out in conformance with the law.

It is important that the County and the several cities maintain a cooperative and positive working relationship. It is in that spirit that this letter is provided to you. I hope to hear from you soon.

Highest regards,

RUBEN E. CASTILLO
MERCED COUNTY COUNSEL

1-24-07
Merced Sun-Star
Local leaders talk turkey over dinner...Scott Jason

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13226007p-13863452c.html
LIVINGSTON -- ...city and county officials hobnobbed and networked Tuesday night to strengthen their ties...100-person crowd at the Livingston Community Center was a who's-who of elected officials and executives from the county and all its cities. Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani and a representative for Rep. Dennis Cardoza attended as well. Council members chatted with county supervisors during the half-hour social time, sharing ideas and needs. Samra said he scheduled a meeting with county Chief Executive Officer Dee Tatum to discuss Livingston's transportation needs and other regional issues. Board of Supervisors Chairman John Pedrozo said the meetings help build relationships between leaders who are often busy with conflicting schedules. "Unless you have these, you can't talk to anyone," he said. "There's never a dull moment." With the entire county board and some councils in attendance, the meeting could seem like a violation of the Brown Act, a California law meant to keep government meetings public. But there's an exemption for social gatherings where official business is not conducted, Merced City Councilman Bill Spriggs said. "This gives us time to converse," Spriggs said. "I get to talk with (Dos Palos City Manager) Darrell Fonseca and get the lowdown on what's happening in Dos Palos." Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani said she came to the meeting to talk with the local officials who know intimately about city and county matters. With Proposition 1B passing, Galgiani said she's met with Merced County Association of Governments representatives to find ways to secure funding for local projects.

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

Submitted: Jan 23, 2007

Dear Dr. Kang,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merced County sued for approval of Black Diamond Aggregates mining project

Submitted: Jan 19, 2007

Merced (January 19, 2007) – Two local environmental groups filed suit Thursday in Merced County Superior Court against the Black Diamond Aggregates project under provisions in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water challenged the Merced County Board of Supervisors’ approval on Dec. 19 of a mitigated negative for Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc., a mine close to the Merced River near Snelling owned by Reed Family Vineyards, LLC, and The Reed Leasing Group, LLC of Modesto.

The writ of mandate challenges the supervisors’ Dec. 19 adoption of the mitigated negative declaration, the General Plan amendment, rezoning, modifications to the mine reclamation plan, and major modifications to the existing mine’s conditional use permit.

Essentially, the County has permitted Black Diamond to mine up to 25 feet below the surface of a mine in the Snelling dredge tailings, originally permitted to mine only to grade level and reclaim the site as grazing land. Under Black Diamond and the County’s reclamation scheme, 25-foot deep mining pits will fill with water and we will have “open space” and “wildlife habitat” (at least until the next big flood on the Merced River).

The causes of action for the suit are Merced County’s abuse of discretion under CEQA and procedural noncompliance with CEQA and CEQA Guidelines.

Petitioners assert county abuses of discretion include:

* Failure to adequately analyze the environmental impacts of the proposal, its necessary or feasible mitigation measures, and to consider a reasonable range of project alternatives;

* Failure to consider the “fair argument” provision under CEQA that the County’s approval of this project may result in significant environmental impacts;

*Failure to adequately analyze the project’s impacts to water resources, biological resources, traffic, air quality, and failure to consider the cumulative impacts resulting from the project;

*Failure to make required mandatory findings;

*Ignoring the project’s inconsistencies with the County’s outdated General Plan.

The County ignored letters from two state and one federal resource agency that the Black Diamond project would have a significant impact on the hydrology and water supply of this area, rezoned out of the Snelling Rural Residential Center (RRC) No. 1 Residential and Agricultural zone. The project is two miles from downtown Snelling and about a half a mile from the Merced River.

The County adopted no mitigation measures on hydrology and water supply before the supervisors approved the project.

“Respondents violated their duty to prepare a legally adequate environmental impact report as required by CEQA …” petitioners said.

The petition asks the court to set aside the environmental findings and related decision by the County on the Black Diamond mine.

“This aggregate company, deeply involved with the destruction of the Tuolumne River, has now come to the Merced River and proposed a strip mine in the dredge tailings,” said Lydia Miller, president of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center. “The planning department, project proponents and the supervisors tried to sneak the multiple violations of CEQA in this project through on a very crowded agenda at the end of the year despite a petition signed by 60 Snelling residents against it. This county government is encouraging outside special interests to run roughshod over its citizens and its natural resources.

“We are represented by the skilled, experienced environmental law firm of Don Mooney and Marsha Burch,” Miller added.

The petition is attached.

For further information contact:

Lydia Miller
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
(209) 723-9283, ph.

DONALD B. MOONEY
MARSHA A. BURCH
Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney
Davis, California 95616
Telephone: 530-758-2377

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
-----------------------------------------------------

DONALD B. MOONEY (SBN153721)
MARSHA A. BURCH (SBN 170298)
Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney
129 C Street, Suite 2
Davis, California 95616
Telephone: 530-758-2377
Facsimile: 530-758-7169

Attorney for Petitioners
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center;
and Protect Our Water

IN THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF MERCED

SAN JOAQUIN RAPTOR RESCUE CENTER; ) BY FAX
and PROTECT OUR WATER )
)
) No.
Petitioners )
)
v. ) VERIFIED PETITION FOR WRIT
) OF MANDATE
COUNTY OF MERCED; MERCED )
COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS; )
and DOES 1 to 20, )
)
Respondents )
)
)
REED FAMILY VINEYARDS, LLC; )
THE REED LEASING GROUP, LLC; )
BLACK DIAMOND AGGREGATES, INC.; )
And DOES 21-40, )
)
Real Parties in Interest. )
________________________________________ )

Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center (“SJRRC”) and Protect Our Water (“POW”) (collectively “Petitioners”) petition this Court for a Writ of Mandate, directed to Respondents Merced County and the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Petitioners challenge Respondents’ December 19, 2006, adoption of the Mitigated Negative Declaration and approval of the amendment to the General Plan from Snelling RRC #1 Residential to Agricultural with a concurrent rezoning from Agricultural Residential (A-R) to General Agricultural (A-1), and modification of CUP-2870 to allow below grade level mining and revise the reclamation plan’s end land use from agricultural to open space for the Black Diamond mining operation (General Plan Amendment No. GPA05-009, Zone Change Application No. ZC05-010, and Major Modification No. MM05-016) (“Project”). By this Petition, Petitioners allege:
PARTIES
1. Petitioner San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center is a non-profit group that works for preserving wildlife habitats and the environment in general in the San Joaquin Valley and Merced County area. To that end, it is involved in efforts to protect the resources of the Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. The Center also is committed to public education regarding these various issues and ensuring governmental compliance with the law of this state. The Center is composed of persons whose economic, personal, aesthetic, and property interests will be severely injured if the adoption of the project is not set aside pending full compliance with CEQA and all other environmental laws. Center members utilize and enjoy the county's and state's natural resources. The Center brings this petition on behalf of all others similarly situated who are too numerous to be named and brought before this court as petitioners. As a group composed of residents and property owners generally within the San Joaquin Valley and specifically in Merced County, the Center is within the class of persons beneficially interested in, and aggrieved by, the acts of respondents as alleged below. Members of the Center participated in the administrative processes herein, and exhausted its remedies. Accordingly, the Center has standing to sue.
2. SJRRC and its members have a direct and substantial beneficial interest in ensuring that Respondents comply with the laws relating to environmental protection, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), Public Resources Code, sections 21000 et seq. SJRRC is affected by Respondents’ failure to prepare an environmental impact report (“EIR”) for the Project.
3. Petitioner Protect Our Water is an unincorporated association formed in 1998 for the purpose of increasing the awareness, appreciation, and preservation of the environmental resources within the Central Valley region of central California, as well as within other areas of the State of California. POW aims to protect natural resources and the environment and to uphold the integrity of environmental and land use planning and review processes. POW’s membership includes residents and property owners within Merced County and the San Joaquin Valley in general, and as such is within the class of persons beneficially interested in, and aggrieved by, the acts of respondents as alleged below. POW participated in the administrative processes herein and has exhausted its remedies, and has standing to sue.
4. POW and its members have a direct and substantial beneficial interest in ensuring that Respondents comply with the laws relating to environmental protection, particularly CEQA. POW is affected by Respondents’ failure to prepare an EIR for the Project.
5. Respondent Merced County is a political subdivision of the State of California and a body corporate and politic exercising local government power. Merced County is the CEQA “lead agency” for the Project. As lead agency for the Project, Merced County is responsible for preparation of an environmental document that describes the Project and its impacts, and, if necessary evaluates mitigation measures and/or alternatives to lessen or avoid any significant environmental impacts.
6. Respondent Merced County Board of Supervisors is a legislative body duly authorized under the California Constitution and the laws of the State of California to act on behalf of the County of Merced. Respondent Merced County Board of Supervisors are responsible for regulating and controlling land use within the County including, but not limited to, implementing and complying with the provisions of CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines, 14 California Code of Regulations, title 14, section 15000 et seq. (the “Guidelines”).
7. Real Party in Interest Reed Family Vineyards, LLC is a California Limited Liability Company formed pursuant to the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in Modesto, California. Reed Family Vineyards, LLC is one of the owners of the property where the Project is located.
8. Real Party in Interest The Reed Leasing Group, LLC is a California Limited Liability Company formed pursuant to the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in Modesto, California. The Reed Leasing Group, LLC is one of the owners of the property where the Project is located.
9. Real Party in Interest Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc. (“Black Diamond”) is a corporation formed pursuant to the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in Modesto, California. Black Diamond operates the mine that received a conditional use permit allowing expansion of the mining operations as a result of Respondents’ approval of the Project. The Project also includes Black Diamond’s new reclamation plan for the expanded mining operation.
10. Petitioners are unaware of the true names and identities of DOES 1 through 20 and 21 through 40, inclusive, and sues such unnamed Respondents and Real Parties in Interest respectively, by their fictitious names. Petitioners are informed and believe, and based thereon allege, that fictitiously named Respondents and Real Parties in Interest also are responsible for all acts and omissions described above. When the true identities and capacities of Respondents and Real Parties in Interest have been determined, Petitioners will, with leave of Court if necessary, amend this Petition to include such identities and capacities.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE
11. This Court has jurisdiction over the matters alleged in this Petition pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1085, and Public Resources Code section 21168.5. In the alternative, this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 and Public Resources Code section 21168.
12. Venue for this action properly lies in the Superior Court for the State of California in and for the County of Merced pursuant to section 394 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

BACKGROUND FACTS
13. The Project site is located on Assessors Parcel Numbers 43-040-43, 43-080-06, 043-040-33 and 37 at Township 5S, Range 14E, SE1/4 of Section 7 and portion of SW1/4 of Section 8, Mount Diablo Baseline Meridian, approximately 2 miles west of the community of Snelling and 15 miles north of Merced. The site is accessible by State Route 59 with a service road connecting at the west end of the property.
.
14. The Project involves a major modification of Conditional Use Permit (“CUP”) 2870 to expand the Black Diamond mining operation by allowing the operator to mine below grade into the perched water table. The previous CUP allows for mining to grade, but not below. Thus, the Project approval results in a significant increase in the magnitude and duration of the mining activities allowed on the Project site. The modification will allow for mining to a maximum depth of 25 feet and will facilitate the removal of approximately 2.5 million cubic yards of sand and gravel material over an estimated 15 year period. The removed material will be transported to an onsite processing facility and then hauled off-site for use in construction projects.
15. The Project also includes a revision to the previously approved Reclamation Plan (required by the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act). The previous Reclamation Plan provided for an end land use of grazing. The Project modified the end land use, allowing for reclamation to open space, including a pond with island and a perimeter of natural vegetation.
16. The Project also includes a rezone and General Plan amendment. In order to continue mining on an approximately 70-acre portion of the Project site, Black Diamond sought the General Plan Amendment and Zone Change. The Project site had a General Plan designation of Snelling Rural Residential Center (RRC) No. 1 Residential and Agricultural. The site was zoned as A-1 (General Agriculture) and A-R (Agricultural Residential). The Project approved a General Plan amendment and Zone change re-designating a portion of the Project site from Snelling RRC No. 1 , Residential to Agricultural and re-zoned a portion of the Project site from A-R to A-1.
17. On June 14, 2006, the Merced County Planning Department released for public review and comment an Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Project. The public comment and review closed on August 12, 2006, as the comment period was extended from July 14, 2006 to August 12, 2006.
18. On December 19, 2006, Merced County, through the Merced County Board of Supervisors, adopted the mitigated negative declaration and approved the Project.
19. On December 19, 2007, Respondents filed a Notice of Determination with the County Clerk of Merced County as provided for in Public Resources Code, section 21152.

EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES
AND INADEQUACY OF REMEDY

20. Petitioners have performed any and all conditions precedent to filing the instant action and have exhausted any and all available administrative remedies to the extent required by law.
21. Petitioners have complied with the requirements of Public Resources Code, section 21167.5 by mailing written notice of this action to the Respondents. A copy of this written notice and proof of service are attached as Exhibit A to this Petition for Writ of Mandate.
22. Petitioners have complied with Public Resources Code section 21167.6 by concurrently filing a request concerning preparation of the record of administrative proceedings relating to this action.
23. Petitioners have no plain, speedy or adequate remedy in the course of ordinary law unless this Court grants the requested writ of mandate to require Respondents to set aside their approval of the Project and adoption of the Mitigated Negative Declaration. In the absence of such remedies, Respondents’ approval will remain in effect in violation of State law.
24. This action has been brought within 30 days of the filing of the Notice of Determination as required by Public Resources Code section 21167(c).
STANDING
25. Petitioners have standing to assert the claims raised in this Petition because Petitioners’ aesthetic and environmental interests are directly and adversely affected by Respondents’ approval of the Mitigated Negative Declaration and approval of the Project.
ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS ACTIONS
26. Petitioners bring this action on the basis, among others, of Government Code section 800, and other applicable laws, which award Petitioners’ attorneys’ fees in actions to overturn agency decisions that are arbitrary and capricious, such as the decisions here in question.

FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION
Abuse of Discretion
CEQA, Public Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.

27. Petitioners reallege and incorporate herein, as if set forth in full, each and every allegation contained in paragraphs 1 through 26 of this petition and further allege as follows:
28. Respondents have abused their discretion and failed to act in the manner required under CEQA with respect to the Project because they have failed to adequately analyze its environmental impacts, necessary or feasible mitigation measures, and a reasonable range of alternatives to the Project. Additionally, the mitigation measures adopted by Respondents are insufficient. Moreover, substantial evidence in the administrative record supports a “fair argument” that the Respondents’ approval of the Project may result in a significant impact to the environment. Conversely, Respondents have no evidence that these impacts will not be significant.
29. Substantial evidence in the administrative record supports a “fair argument” that the Respondents’ approval of the Project may result in a significant impact to the environment. The substantial evidence before Respondents demonstrates, at a minimum, that:
a. Land Use. The Project may have a significant impact to land use as the Project changes land use designations and zoning, and does so in a way that conflicts with the County General Plan. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project’s impacts to these land uses are potentially significant.
b. Water Resources. The Project may have a significant impact on water resources, including, but not limited to the following: Changes in, drainage patterns and surface runoff; water related hazards; impacts to surface water quality; impacts to groundwater supply and quality; impacts to groundwater recharge; impacts to public water supplies; and cumulative impacts to water resources. Evidence submitted to County during Project review by the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”), California Department of Fish and Game (“CDFG”) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) shows that the Project may have significant impacts to ground water supplies, surface waters, wetlands and riparian habitat.
c. Biological Resources. The Project may have a significant impact on biological resources, sensitive species habitat and populations. Federal and State protected species occur in the Project area and impacts to such habitat triggers the mandatory requirement for the preparation of an EIR under CEQA. The Project may impact protected species, degrade habitat, and have significant watershed impacts. The Project may result in significant adverse impacts to Merced River Fisheries. Further, the USACE identified jurisdictional waters of the United States on the Project site, a conclusion the County simply noted that if the “Corps disagrees with the County’s position [that there no jurisdictional waters], it has the authority to contact the applicant directly. . . .” County refused to prepare a wetland delineation for the Project site. Substantial evidence in the record, including opinions provided by the California State SWRCB, CDFG and the USACE, supports a fair argument that the Project’s impacts to biological resources are potentially significant.
d. Traffic Impacts. The Project may have significant traffic impacts. The California Department of Transportation commented regarding these potentially significant impacts, recommending a traffic impact study. The Project approval results in a significant increase in the magnitude and duration of mining activity at the Project site. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project’s traffic impacts are potentially significant.
e. Air Quality. The Project may have significant air quality impacts. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District submitted comments showing that the Project may have significant air quality impacts, and recommended a full air quality impact assessment. County declined. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project’s air quality impacts are potentially significant.
f. Cumulative Impacts. The Project may have significant cumulative impacts on water resources, wildlife habitat, protected species, air quality and land use. Adjacent mining activity and the potential for this Project approval to spur additional applications for authorization to mine below-grade in the tailings (a practice historically prohibited), was not considered during Project review. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project will have cumulative impacts that are potentially significant.
g. Mandatory Findings of Significance. The Project will have impacts that require a mandatory finding of significance under CEQA. Evidence was submitted in comments from USACE and CDFG indicating that wetlands and/or sensitive species habitat exists in the Project area, and these comments were dismissed by Respondents. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project will have impacts on rare or endangered plants and animals such that a mandatory finding of significance was required.
h. Inconsistency with General Plan. CEQA provides that where a project is inconsistent with a governing general plan, the lead agency must treat that inconsistency as a significant environmental effect. The Project is inconsistent with General Plan policies relating to land use, open space and conservation and agriculture. For example, County concluded that new Reclamation Plan will be “more beneficial” to watershed and wildlife habitat uses, consistent with General Plan Policies, and yet made this conclusion in the face of contrary expert opinion from the CDFG and USACE. Moreover, Merced County's General Plan is outdated, with the last revision taking place in 1987. A comprehensive General Plan update is needed. Amendments to an outdated General Plan cannot be allowed to substitute for such an update.
30. Respondents have also failed to analyze reasonable and feasible alternatives to the Project. Numerous comments requested that the County review Project alternatives, and also address the concerns of the citizens of Snelling. The truncated environmental review performed by Respondents foreclosed any opportunity to review alternatives, in direct violation of CEQA.
31. Respondents failed to provide a good faith and reasoned response to all of the comments submitted by the public and public agencies on the draft Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study for the Project.
32. Respondents inappropriately deferred the development of mitigation measures known by Respondents to be feasible. For example, experts from SWRCB, USACE and CDFG provided opinions that the Project could have significant impacts to hydrology and water supply, and yet County ignored this evidence, concluded that no potentially significant impacts would occur, and no mitigation measures were adopted for potential impacts to hydrology, instead putting off consideration of mitigation to the future.
33. Respondents inappropriately refused to perform necessary investigations, studies or inquiry with respect to known areas of conflicting expert opinion and information suggesting that significant impacts would occur.
34. Respondents inappropriately deferred the performance of necessary investigations, studies or inquiry with respect to the development of mitigation measures and provided no performance standards, criteria or specific guidance with respect to future studies used to develop mitigation measures.
35. Respondents failed to adequately consult with the appropriate trustee agencies, responsible agencies and agencies with jurisdiction over natural resources affected by the Project as required by CEQA.
36. Respondents failed to provide an adequate Project description in that it did not adequately identify and contrast existing conditions with those of the proposed Project.
37. The Mitigated Negative Declaration and the Initial Study fail to provide substantial evidence to support Respondents’ conclusions that the Project will not have a significant effect on the environment.
38. Respondents violated their duty to prepare a legally adequate environmental impact report as required by CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines (Title 23 California Code of Regulations, § 15000 et seq.).

SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION
Writ of Mandate Pursuant to C.C.P. § 1094.5 for Procedural
Noncompliance with CEQA and CEQA Guidelines

39. Petitioners reallege and incorporate herein, as if set forth in full, each and every allegation contained in paragraphs 1 through 38 of this petition and further alleges as follows:
40. Respondents abused their discretion and failed to proceed according to law in that they failed to adequately respond to the correspondence, information and other materials that evidenced the Project’s significant environmental impacts, as submitted to Respondents by various resource agencies during the Project approval process and CEQA review.
41. Respondents further abused their discretion and failed to proceed according to law in that they adopted a “baseline” condition intended to minimize disclosure of the true Project impacts, thereby failing to fulfill CEQA’s informational purposes.
42. Respondents failed to include sufficient description, data and information in the Project description and environmental review to support Respondents’ conclusions.
43. Respondents failed to require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the project, despite the existence of a "fair argument" based on substantial evidence in the record, that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.
44. As a result of Respondents’ failure to comply with the procedures required by CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines, a preemptory writ of mandate must issue ordering Respondents to set aside its environmental findings and the related decision, and directing Respondents to comply with the procedures mandated by CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines before acting on any development proposal under the Project.

PRAYER
Wherefore, Petitioners respectfully request the following relief and entry of judgment as follows:
1. A peremptory writ of mandate directing Respondents to vacate and set aside the approval of the Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared for the Project on the grounds that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code section 21000 et seq.
2. Petitioner’s attorneys’ fees under Code of Civil Proc edure section 1021.5 and other applicable authority;
5. Costs of suit; and
6. Such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.

DATED: January 18, 2007
LAW OFFICES OF DONALD B. MOONEY

By Donald B. Mooney
Attorney for Petitioners
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center; and
Protect Our Water

VERIFICATION
I am the attorney for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water who are all located outside the County of Yolo, State of California, where I have my office. For that reason, I make this verification for and on their behalf pursuant to the California Code of Civil Procedure section 446. I have read the foregoing Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate and know its contents. The matters stated in this Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate are true of my own knowledge except those matters stated on information and belief, and as to those matters I believe them to be true.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the above is true and correct. Executed this 18th day of January 2007, at Davis, California.
Donald B. Mooney

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Ol' Slippery John and the lawsuits

Submitted: Jan 19, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One could ask, How much do these people want?

All of it, would be the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merced residents sue County and Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Jan 18, 2007

Merced County sued over approval of Riverside Motorsports Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The petition and notice of intent is attached.

For further information contact:

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

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

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Move your environment!

Submitted: Jan 08, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We heard he moved to the coast.

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Badlands antidote for 2007

Submitted: Dec 31, 2006

The Badlands Journal antidote for recession and bloody-minded blithering idiots at the wheel will not:

· stop inflation and falling home prices
· negative real yeilds on US Treasury securities
· stop pressure to weaken the dollar
· stop sharp rise in grain prices as biofuel processors bid up food prices
· stop precious metal prices from rising
· stop war and rising political instability in the Mideast, Southeast Asia and Africa and production discipline from keeping the supply of oil below demand
· stop the combination of rising defaults, foreclosures and falling collateral values that is beginning to weaken the balance sheets of mortgage lenders, including several of America’s largest banks
· stop wages from falling
· stop a stock-market slump
· cool bond market volatility
· stop a 20-percent depreciation of the dollar against the yen, the Swiss franc and the pound, and a 10-percent depreciation against the Chinese yuan
· stop a recession in Mexico that will drive more people north
· support "cash-out" mortgages to stimulate consumer spending
· stop the Democrats from aggressive trade legislation aimed at opening more Asian markets
· stop Chinese and Japanese irritation with this legislation
· stop global warming
. turn you into a faith-based knucklehead.

However, it may restore some lost sanity as an economic crisis you can’t do anything about anyway develops and political and economic leaders pump up the volume of lies, send in more troops, start more wars, and do more of what they have done so well -- steal, kill and destroy the earth in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Badlands Journal antidote for 2007:

The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin (1859)
-----------------------------

Notes:

RISKY BUSINESS
Global economy faces a dangerous year
By Jephraim P Gundzik
Asia Times, Dec. 23, 2006
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/HL23Dj01.html

Cash-out mortgage refinancing
http://www.lendingtree.com/cec/yourhome/yourmortgage/cash-out-mortgage-refinancing.asp

The Housing Crash Recession of 2007
By Dean Baker
Truthout, Dec. 5, 2006
http://www.cepr.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=644

Fed Treading on Thin Ice as US Housing Bubble Weakens
By Mark Weisbrot
http://www.cepr.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=362

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A reliable man

Submitted: Dec 31, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How else is the public expected to understand this appointment?

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

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

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

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

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

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The Invisible Middle Finger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands Journal editorial board
-------------------

Notes:

Invisible hand definition
http://www.investorwords.com/2633/invisible_hand.html

American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips, pp. 266-267

USDA Economic Research Service
http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FATUS/

12-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
Risky loans squeeze owners
...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13133035p-13779704c.html
Merced homeowners who took out high-risk loans this year are more likely to fall into foreclosure than borrowers in any other city nationwide, a new study predicts. Merced's projected foreclosure rate ranked No. 1 on a list of 376 cities compiled by the Center for Responsible Lending, a North Carolina-based nonprofit organization
...study predicts that 25 percent of Merced's subprime loans will end in foreclosure. Subprime loans are made to borrowers with poor credit histories...include adjustable interest rates... When the interest rate increases, payments can jump up by 30 percent in some cases. Borrowers are faced with "payment shock," said Kathleen Keest, one of the study's authors. "You've got this perfect storm of these adjustable rates starting to adjust at a time when housing prices are coming down and interest rates are going up." Skyrocketing home values encouraged borrowers to take out risky loans because they assumed they could refinance with a better loan after their equity increased. "Here we are two years later and that (home value) appreciation is not happening." "What goes up does sometimes come down." Victor Jimenez of First Merced Mortgage Co. said he's noticed an increase in foreclosure activity. Two years ago when Merced was rated No. 2 in the state in home value increases, buyers flocked to the area... "People just used their houses as an ATM machine," Jimenez said. "It was a disaster waiting to happen and now it's happening."

1-28-06
Merced Sun-Star
D.A. may have served alcohol to underage drinker who died
… Chris Collins
Sun-Star investigation: Gordon Spencer relied on others to check IDs at country club
Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer has admitted that he "probably" served alcohol to an underage drinker at a party last month who was later killed by a car as he walked home.
Spencer also said he didn't check IDs at the party while he served drinks as a bartender, but instead expected others to keep underage drinkers away from the alcohol.
Greg Gomez, a 20-year-old from South Merced, was served alcohol at a Dec. 18 buffet dinner at the Merced Golf and Country Club, the Sun-Star has learned.
He was invited to the party by his girlfriend, who works at the club. The dinner and free drinks at the bar were arranged by managers at the club who hosted the party to thank employees.
Spencer said he wasn't sure whether he served Gomez alcohol, but added: "I'm not going to say I didn't." …

12-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
UC, city are one
...Josh Franco, UC Merced Student Body President...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13133053p-13779716c.html
Much has been said about the relationship between students and the community this semester. People who continue to erect boundaries between students and the community further propagate an "us versus them" mentality; however, I write to say that we are truly one and the same. We each contribute to the vitality of this planet, whether it's planting crops, mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, serving food, trading stocks, attending city council meetings, writing our representatives, e-mailing our professors, researching alternative energies, discovering cures for aliments or contemplating the future...while some semblance of division will always exist because few people will always feel unappreciated or unwelcome, such should not deter us from making our community what it must be: an inspiring beacon of perpetual hope. Students value Merced, and this region, for the opportunities it offers and responsibility of serving the public it bestows upon us and we share this responsibility with the community. Therefore, I conclude with a heartfelt "Thank you" to the people of the city of Merced for giving students the opportunity to learn about, live in and love the Valley!

Badlandsjournal.com – April, 2006
You can come to our Valley but can you play our blue violin?

12-2-06
Modesto Bee
Buying house still out of reach for most
Report ranks Stanislaus nearly last in affordability
… By J.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/v-rssxml/story/13069778p-13723130c.html
Despite falling home prices, the Northern San Joaquin Valley continues to have among the least affordable housing markets in the nation, according to new statistics.
Median-income families could afford to buy fewer than 5 percent of the homes sold in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties during July, August and September.
Nationwide, median-income families could afford 40.4 percent of the homes sold, according to the National Association of Home Builders-Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index.
In Stanislaus County, 4.1 percent of homes were affordable, because the median price was $372,000 and the median income was $54,400.
In Merced County, 4.3 percent were affordable; the median price was $359,000 and the median income was $46,400.
In San Joaquin County, 4.8 percent were affordable; the median price was $434,000 and the median income was $57,100.
Northern San Joaquin Valley homes weren't always so costly. In 1999, more than half of the homes sold in the three counties were affordable to those with median incomes.
The index showed that Los Angeles County was the least affordable place to buy. Median-income families there could afford 1.8 percent of the homes, because the median home cost was $523,000, while the median income was $56,200.
To see the index, including data going back to 1991, go to: www.nahb.org/hoi.

12-20-06
Merced Sun-Star
County controls Castle property
…Abby Souza
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13130076p-13776995c.html
Few property owners will take a $10 check in exchange for more than 1,900 acres, but that is exactly what Merced County paid the Air Force for land at Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center.
At Tuesday's Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting, Board Chairman Mike Nelson handed a $10 check to Air Force Real Property Agency's Philip Mook.
In exchange, the county and several other groups now own 1,991 acres on the former Air Force base.
The "purchase" was actually a transfer of deeds for the land, said John Fowler, county director of commerce, aviation and economic development. The $10 was representative of a title transfer fee of one of those deeds …In the meantime, the board also approved a management agreement with Federal Merced Associates. That company will act as landlords for the property for the next five years, as well as market and sell property within the base with board approval.
This company will pay the county $1 million annually in collected rent and other income …

Put editor on a leash...Don Bergman...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13130091p-13776971c.html
It is always interesting to read the Merced Sun-Star and see the half-truths that Sun-Star Editor Joe Kieta's reporters have to say. Another attack on Riverside Motorsports Park CEO John Condren was in Saturday's issue of the Sun-Star. It once again proved that the reporters don't know anything about what they write. I have had experience with half-truths written by the reporters at the Sun-Star...seem that Kieta wants to create as much controversy as possible in the articles, maybe he thinks this will sell more papers instead of making the paper look like it doesn't know what they are doing. If Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron had done some investigation he would have had a number of answers to his questions...that a group of private investors don't have to have their names in the paper. The firm that is funding the track is very reliable and trustworthy. The Sun-Star and The Modesto Bee came out in support of the project, so why now are they attempting to discredit the project? Maybe Hank Vander Veen should get his editor on a leash and wait until the project is developed and then hold Riverside to what Condren has said. EDITOR'S NOTE: Cameron is an internationally recognized expert on sports facilities -- including racetracks.

12-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
Attack wasn't necessary
...David Wood, Merced...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13133052p-13779729c.html
To paraphrase, it's amazing after four years, Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron is still guessing... What's with the personal attacks on John Condren? Have some degree of professionalism! For someone who has "spent the better part of a decade covering the business of sports and entertainment," he doesn't know much about these things. Thankfully the county and our supervisors do. The books and finances of any privately held entity are indeed that -- private. Maybe the Sun-Star is the greatest paper in the Central Valley. And maybe it's a fish wrapper.

12-13-06
Merced Sun-Star
RMP gets a green light
...Corinne Reilly...Mercedsunstar.com
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13108206p-13757468c.html
Riverside Motorsports Park moved from plan to reality early Wednesday morning when the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved the raceway complex in a series of votes that spanned eight and half hours. With Supervisors Deidre Kelsey and John Pedrozo dissenting on two key votes, plans for the 1,200-acre racing venue earned just enough support to move forward. The board's 2:30 a.m. decision followed hours of emotional public testimony from raceway supporters and opponents...300 people filled the board chambers and nearby overflow rooms at the meeting's 6 p.m. start...the final vote was cast just before 2:30 a.m. the crowd had thinned to a weary three dozen. Kelsey voiced the strongest opposition to the raceway -- at one point reading a 35-minute statement condemning the project as a disaster for taxpayers and an attack on farmers and ranchers near the raceway's future northern Merced County site. Kelsey slammed environmental reviews of the project as inadequate and rushed, urging the board to delay its vote until more studies on the project's impacts could be completed. She said approving of the project would damage the public trust and disgrace the supervisors. "As this project sits in front of me today, it's terrible," said Kelsey. "...The credibility of our board is on the line with this." Pedrozo cast the only other votes against the project. "I know what it is to be a farmer and I know what it is to have cars coming down your country roads," said Pedrozo. "I can't support the (environmental impact report), not until I am totally confident that all the people that live out there are taken care of." The board voted on six motions that collectively allowed the project to move forward. By the end of the meeting, the board had voted to approve the project's environmental reviews, to allow traffic and noise from the raceway to exceed current county standards, and to overrule a finding by the Airport Land Use Commission that the racetrack's site is too close to Castle Airport's runway.

12-18-06
Merced Sun-Star

Steve Cameron: Riverside has too many unanswered questions
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/sports/story/13119426p-13766961c.html
It feels like the hollering and arguing have been raging forever. Two years?
Three? Four?
The Board of Supervisors perhaps put an end to the debate this week, approving all the key provisions which give the green light to Riverside Motorsports Park -- a $240 million development that would change the face of Merced County.
Note the key word -- perhaps…In any event, Condren insists the board never inquired about his investors. And in this case, his routinely smug tone was justified.
"A list of investors was neither asked for, nor does the county have such a list," said Mark Hendrickson, the county's director of governmental affairs.
Don't you want to scream: Why not?
It's astonishing what the county board doesn't know and didn't ask about the Riverside Motorsports Park -- despite a request to change the general plan regarding land use for that property and obvious opposition from a significant segment of the population.
Even Condren's allies don't really know much about the business plan which supposedly provides an underpinning for the motorsports park.
The local business community, which has supported Riverside while dreaming of the millions which could be pumped into our economy (Condren's figures, naturally..), has little clue how the project really might work.
To borrow an old line, you could fill the Grand Canyon with what we don't know about the Riverside project.
Or about Condren, for that matter.
Maybe Riverside Motorsports Park could be the greatest thing to hit the Central Valley since cows.
And maybe it's a dead fish.
Amazing that after four years, we're still guessing...

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

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

12-23-06
Merced Sun-Star
Pedrozo could have voted down RMP -- but didn't
...Joe Kieta
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/columnists/story/13138811p-13784799c.html
Dec. 14 edition. It was right there in big, colored type on the front page: "Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo votes YES on Riverside Motorsports Park." I distinctly remembered when Pedrozo said he was against the park's environmental impact report -- which I took to mean he was opposed to the Riverside project moving forward as-is...struck at how strongly he voiced his opposition. How could we have printed that Pedrozo voted "yes" when he clearly voted "no"?...a razor-sharp copy editor caught the error and it only appeared in half of all copies. But was it really a mistake? I'm convinced that it wasn't an error at all. When you whittle it down and trim out all of the baloney, Pedrozo voted "yes" when it counted most. The first involved whether to certify the environmental impact report...it passed 3-2... The second (and most critical) vote concerned changing rules that require a certain distance between a development and Castle Airport's runway. The changes, which essentially sidestep the airport land use commission's rules, require a 4-1 vote of the supervisors to pass. If the vote failed, the RMP project would have been essentially dead. Pedrozo voted "yes." In essence, the fate of the project was in Pedrozo's lap -- and he put it over the top. Pedrozo said that he voted "yes" for the airport rule change because it possibly could affect other proposed developments in the area. But Pedrozo is flat-out wrong about that. The vote was only about RMP and did not bind further developments. If Pedrozo really, truly was against Riverside Motorsports Park, he would have voted "no" on the airport land use vote. But he didn't. Whatever you think about RMP (and this newspaper has cautiously endorsed it, mind you), Pedrozo's "no" and "yes" votes are just plain contradictory. I hate mistakes in the paper. But I love pointing out hypocrisy and political gamesmanship -- two terms that seem to fit Pedrozo like a pair of trusty Levis.

Keep media untethered...Mike Salm, Merced...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13138794p-13784818c.html
This is not the first time I've seen a letter to the editor that says, in effect, "put the editor on a leash." It also happened earlier this year when there was a lot of investigative reporting regarding the behavior of a few government officials in Merced. You never want to get too close to some government officials. They don't like it. So should we, the people, then be like a possum and smile, roll over and play dead? In this country we have a government of the people, for the people. We have a right to know how our government functions.

Plainsburg resident's attempt to recall supervisor fails...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13138783p-13784863c.html
County auditor Stephen Jones said Friday that Owens didn't serve Pedrozo with notice of the recall in accordance with state guidelines. "You swore under penalty of perjury that you had made proof of personal service on John Pedrozo," Jones wrote in a letter to Owens, dated Dec. 18. "However, you did not make personal service as you attested, as Mr. Pedrozo was out of town." The letter said that the county's attorney has determined the recall petition is invalid. Owens said he tried on Friday to personally serve Pedrozo, but couldn't track him down. Now Owens said he intends to serve Pedrozo via certified mail.

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