Environment

Publicly subsidized Merced Grifters to give another "One Whine" concert at state Capitol

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

“ With a paid lobbyist by their side, the group of two dozen people calling themselves the "One Voice Delegation" will meet with directors, cabinet heads and politicians in the capital today and Wednesday.” Chris Collins Merced SunStar Tues Feb-07-2006

Regular Meeting
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2005

Regular Meeting – 10:00 a.m.

48. Supervisor Kelsey - Approve the One Voice Program Membership Contribution of $16,982 for FY 2005/2006 and approve the necessary budget transfer. APPROVED AS RECOMMENDED AYES: ALL

Editor,

The One Voice Delegation walks like a political action committee and talks like a political action committee, it collects political contributions from its members and expends those monies on political special interests like a political action committee, except the One Voice Delegation hasn’t registered with the state of California as a political action committee.

According to the minutes of the October 18th 2005 Board of Supervisors meeting (Item #48), the supervisors unanimously voted to transfer $16,982 from the general fund to the One Voice Delegation for expenses in the 2005/6 fiscal years. This lobbying is therefor being subsidized, directly by county residents through taxes!

That money should be clearly recorded and identifiable as to where that funding comes from and how and where it is being spent. An accounting of how those funds eventually return any appreciable benefit to the unwitting taxpayer should be traceable at the end of the process. Without an accurate audit trail these benefits will not be possible to determine.

This audit trail will not even exist if MCAG is allowed to continue expending county general fund revenues without formally declaring its political motivations and complying with the laws regulating those activities.

It would be appropriate and prudent for this group to document all of its donors and expenditures insofar as the lobbying activities outlined in the Sun Star article represent the “consensus” of a very small and select special interest group from among the diverse population of Merced County. Though brash in the scope of its ambition, the One Voice Delegation cannot possibly believe that it represents the consensus of Merced County as a whole.

The rules under which a political action committee must operate are necessarily more stringent than the requirements imposed by the leadership of the Merced County Association of Governments. There are good and logical reasons for this kind of official supervision not the least of which is to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest.

While I strongly defend any political groups right to lobby for a cause, I take great exception to them doing so with my tax dollars if I happen to disagree with either their philosophy or their stated agenda. I happen to disagree that this groups stated philosophy would be achieved by their stated agenda.

I see a request for money to build a bypass for Los Banos, and to widen Hwy 99 and to build the UC campus yellow brick road, and I wonder how do any of these projects or funding alleviate poverty, unemployment or traffic congestion, for the people who actually live in Merced County?

I see an effort to regain access to gasoline taxes for road maintenance at the county level, yet I see a county administration dedicated to urban sprawl. Why should the state build or upkeep roads in Merced so that more people can commute from the Valley to jobs in the Bay Area? For that matter, why does Merced county think building better freeways through the county will alleviate the surface traffic congestion throughout the county?

I am not saying that lobbying the state for funding is wrong, although it does clearly highlight how ‘welfare dependant’ the administration of this county actually is, I rather intend to point out that the One Voice Delegation’s is acting as a political action committee and must submit to the same standard and regulations as any other similar organization.

Ms. Steelman, one of the MCAG facilitators interviewed for the SunStar article is indeed charming and adroit at her job! Having participated directly in the MCAG’s previous program ‘Partners in Planning’ I am painfully aware of the process through which the facilitators are able to steer a disparate group of ‘pre-identified’ stakeholders, to a predetermined consensus. The whole process is chilling in its efficiency, imbued with an indomitable sense of self-preservation and when all is said and done demonstrates as little concern with the input of the stakeholder as an Australian shepherd has with the concerns of a lone sheep.

Bryant Owens- Plainsburg (209) 769-0832

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Who bulldozed the Torres farm labor camp and why?

Submitted: Feb 06, 2006

Felix Torres CEQA Scoping Request to Agencies
Feb. 6, 2006

From:

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax
raptorctr@bigvalley.net
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
(209) 523-1391, ph. & fax
sburke5@sbcglobal.net
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada Community Development Corporation
(209) 769-0832
recall@mercednet.com
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550

To:

Robert Lewis Director
Merced County Planning and Economic Development
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 385-7654
via Fax (209) 726-1710

Board of Supervisors Merced County
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 385-7366
via Fax (209) 726-7977

Board of Commissioners
Housing Authority of Merced County
405 U Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 722-3501
Fax (209) 722-0106

Sunne Wright McPeak Secretary
Business, Transportation & Housing Agency
980 9th Street, Suite 2450
Sacramento, CA 95814-2719
Phone (916) 323-5400
Fax: 916-323-5440

Judy Nevis Director
Housing & Community Development
1800 Third Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone (916) 445-4775
Fax (916) 324-5107

Richard L. Friedman Acting Deputy Dir.
Division of Financial Assistance
Phone (916) 322-1560
Fax (916) 327-6660

Kim Dunbar Assistant Division Chief
Phone (916) 322-1560
Fax (916) 327-6660

Janet Marzolf, Section Chief

Asset Management & Compliance Section
Phone (916) 327-2896
Fax (916) 327-6660

Patrick Dyas Program Manager
Office of Migrant Services
Phone (916) 327-0942
Fax (916) 327-6660

Monday, February 06, 2006

Re: CEQA review of proposed new migrant housing in Planada (Merced County), Scope of Project, Analysis of alternatives to project, irregularity in NEPA analysis of environmental impacts; project incompatibility with current County General Plan; misappropriation of federal funding for migrant housing to construct low-income housing. Environmental Justice Abuse.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are greatly dissatisfied with and concerned over the actions of the Housing Authority of Merced, especially concerning the demolition of the Felix Torres Migrant Camp, and a documented agreement made with certain Merced county officials by Housing Authority Executive Director, Nick Benjamin in which the County of Merced purportedly required Housing Authority to relocate Planada Village in collaboration with SUDP zoning changes proposed by the County of Merced during the environmental review of Planada’s Community Specific Plan Update (Dec 2003).

As you all may certainly verify, the funding for the proposed renovation of the Felix Torres Camp, and funding for the demolition and replacement of Planada Village (asbestos) was individually encumbered in two separate OMS grant in year 2003. There was also a third grant awarded to the Housing Authority bringing the aggregated total for renovation of Planada Migrant camps to just over $10 million dollars.

Planada citizens were delighted with the concept of renovation of the existing camps, but were solidly in opposition to the idea of moving either camp further away from the community. .

The decision to combine these grants into a single ‘project’ seems to have been solely at the discretion of Mr. Nick Benjamin. [1] No satisfactory explanation was ever given to date as to why the Felix Torres camp could not be rebuilt on its original site. It is clear that Department of Housing and Community Development owns the structures of the Planada Village Camp and contracts with Housing Authority of Merced for the maintenance thereof, and it is also clear the Housing Authority owns the land, and both parcels were and are still zoned for the use of Migrant Housing.

Our contention is that CEQA review should have begun at that point at which Mr. Benjamin decided to move the existing camps to new locations, back in 2003. As a semi-autonomous State Agency, Housing Authority has lead agency status with regard to NEPA review of this proposed project, however, that autonomy does not supercede land use authority in Merced County when a proposed project requires a zoning change, or as in this case, a conditional use permit. (Migrant Housing is not an automatically granted land use on land zoned A-1 Agricultural, there are specific requirements of the County General Plan that must be met and approved, and that process requires public review and opportunity to comment under CEQA).

Mr. Benjamin’s decision to relocate the camp(s), was facilitated by the Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing (a non-profit organization formed by the Housing Authority of Merced in 1987), which secured a loan from (or through) Housing Authority to purchase alternate land for the construction of a proposed ‘combined’ migrant and year round camp.

Mr. Nick Benjamin at that time was both the Executive Director of Housing Authority, and the Secretary of Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing and it is believed that he had full authority to act on behalf of both organization’s boards with regard to the procurement of the specific 24-acre parcel on Gerard Avenue (the originally intended location to which Felix Torres camp was to be moved).

Public outcry and written opposition to the change in location of Felix Torres Camp presented to the County Board of Supervisors, stalled the project and lead to an elaborate ‘shell game’ of deed transfers and money laundering that culminated in Jan. with the recording of the sale of that parcel to Merced County C.E.O. Demetrios Tatum and his wife. This land sale and all its intermediary steps are currently under the investigation of the Merced County Grand Jury.

Mr. Benjamin is a person who wears many hats in Merced County. Beside those previously mentioned, he also holds a position on the board of the Community Action Agency (a quasi-governmental non-profit agency whose funding, such as Community Development Block grants, is directly controlled by the Merced County Board of Supervisors). Mr. Benjamin also sits on the Workforce Investment Board, (established by statute in 2001 and whose members are appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors).

Mr. Benjamin has collaborated extensively with Mr. Rudy Buendia, the director of FirmBuild, (a non-profit corporation involved with other projects in Planada such as the Bear Creek Village) for many years. Mr. Buendia currently is appointed as a Commissioner of the Housing Authority of Merced’s Board of Commissioners (appointed by the District Supervisor for district 1 which includes Planada.) Mr. Buendia also hold an appointed position on the Merced County Planning Commission as a Commissioner (also appointed by the District 1 Supervisor)

Mr. Buendia seems to be in the enviable position of sitting as a voting member of the ‘lead agency’ for the NEPA approval of the proposed new Felix Torres Project, and as an advisor to the ‘lead agency’ for the CEQA review of this same project. Additionally FirmBuild may be involved in the eventual reconstruction of the Felix Torres Camp. Consequently the public has no clear or speedy means of determining whether or not any other inappropriate financial aggrandizement may occur through the eventual release of these encumbered OMS grant funds.

The normal checks and balances, which would preclude such conflicts of interest, are demonstrably absent in a rural setting such as Merced County where one person can wear so many hats simultaneously.

There seems to be a great deal of overlap in the funding streams coming into Merced County through the Department of Financial Assistance of the Department of Housing and Community Development. It is clear to these commentators that the restrictions on the beneficiaries of grant funding through specific programs such as Joseph C. Serna Farmworker housing (which represents about one third of the grant funding for this proposed project) may be effectively circumvented under the aegis of Mr. Benjamin’s proposal.

The Predevelopment Loan Program used to demolish the Felix Torres Camp may have been used in violation of CEQA in that no environmental review was even contemplated for that aspect of the project until during the actual demolition when the commentators did a site inspection and discovered evidence of endangered and/or protected species on site, and brought such information to the attention of Housing Authority. The public will never know whether or not there was illegal ‘take’ of endangered/protected species during the demolition of the Felix Torres Camp buildings, but what is clear from written communications with the Housing Authority is their stated contention was that the contractor would have been liable for the illegal ‘take’.

This demonstrably limited understanding of the Housing Authority’s responsibility for complying with the laws of the State of California and those of the United States does not inspire confidence that this project is proceeding according to established standards of environmental review.

Having brought this situation to the attention of the grantors, it should not remain incumbent upon the public to force an internal audit of this morass; it would seem incumbent on the director of the Department of Financial Assistance or his superiors to follow up on a complaint such as this.

We clearly see and understand the financial incentive Housing Authority has in cooperating with the parties financially interested in securing the zoning changes proposed in the 2003 Planada Community Plan Update; the Planada Village was to be replaced with a zone for commercial development along Hwy 140, and the Felix Torres Camp is directly adjacent to a riparian waterway (Miles Creek) and is being actively sought for the residential development capabilities afforded by the proposed change to low density residential zoning.

Both parcels would appreciate multiple orders of magnitude in value and would represent an irresistible temptation to seek less valuable real estate on which to build replacement migrant housing with the already encumbered grant funding.

While we can appreciate the considerable potential financial benefit of this collaboration to Housing Authority, we can also clearly see conflicts with other applicable land use authorities of the State of California including tenets of the Cortese-Knox- Hertzberg Act of 2000, as it would apply to the provision of municipal services outside of an established SUDP; specific proscriptions under CEQA disallowing a public entity to select a preferred alternative based solely upon the affordability of the land in question; the ongoing environmental injustice being inflicted upon the displaced population; not to mention the near impossibility of evaluating the compliance of this proposed project or any like it with the hopelessly outdated Merced County General Plan.

The community has already suffered the deprivation of the 88 Felix Torres Camp units and has born for three years the added congestion of accommodating those returning migrants in the sparsely available low and very low-income housing. The local economy has suffered commensurately lack of workforce during crucial times of harvest during the last three years.

The public was informed by Housing Authority representatives that the decision to close and demolish Felix Torres Camp was a directive of the State of California, and under the Public Records Act we wish to inspect any written document corroborating that assertion, if such could be identified in the files of any of the above parties to whom this letter is addressed. It is our belief that the decision to close and then demolish Felix Torres Camp was rather retaliatory and punitive of the public who voiced opposition to the political and residential development interests who were clearly the intended beneficiaries of this collaboration.

The citizens of Planada participated in the federal NEPA review of this proposed project. Written comments regarding the draft EA (Environmental Assessment) have not been acknowledged or answered and the Housing Authority acting as its own lead agency has approved their NEPA review. We attach a copy[2] of the submitted comments to assist you in determining whether substantive information has been overlooked in the EA by the ‘Lead Agency’(Housing Authority of Merced County).

Irrespective of the relative weight given to public comment during the NEPA environmental review process, the Housing Authority has now contacted the Merced County Planning Department seeking CEQA review and approval of this disputed project.

CEQA requires that the Lead Agency (Merced County) examine all feasible alternatives to the proposed project, and that the scope of that analysis include all issues identified in the earliest initial study, including, in particular, the intent of the original funding source, and the setting in which those particular funds were encumbered. By completing the NEPA analysis of this project independently from the CEQA review, the Housing Authority has sought to limit the analysis of the environmental impact solely to their preferred alternative. This is both subtle and inappropriate.

Plaintiffs who sued Merced County over the inadequacy of the 2003 Planada Community Plan on behalf of those migrants displaced by the actions of the Housing Authority (closing the Felix Torres Camp in 2003 and demolishing it in 2005) have not abandoned their suit. In fact that suit is currently in 5th Appellate Court in Fresno.

Merced County’s recently disclosed plans to radically expand the SUDP boundary of Planada as part of a County General Plan Update, seek to circumvent and moot the efforts of the appellants.

There is clearly a nexus of growth pressures, lack of sewer capacity, declining economic opportunity, and poverty in Planada that demand a comprehensive environmental analysis. The migrant housing to be built with this funding (encumbered since 2003) is certainly a seminal component of Planada’s housing supply, and crucial in that it will be supportive of the actual agricultural labor force indigenous to the community.

Unfortunately, though, it has come to light that the Housing Authority has no intention of limiting residents of the proposed new Felix Torres Camp to farm workers and their dependents. The overarching intent of providing low-income housing in Merced County on which so many other government subsidized funding streams reaching Merced County tend to depend, would seem to provide an incentive for County Planning to limit the CEQA review of this project. We hope this scrutiny will persuade Housing Authority Executive Director Nick Benjamin and County Planning to honor the actual legislative intent of the OMS grant funding. We wish to somehow ensure that the proposed housing is actually going to replace both the structures and the context that were demolished at the original Felix Torres site. The conclusions presented to the public in the Housing Authority’s draft EA do not inspire confidence that the public’s expectations for this project will be realized.

It seems clear that more specific guidance from the State Agency with direct control over the expenditure of these funds is necessary. Without intending to jeopardize the funding for migrant housing in Planada, may we suggest that Housing Authority is within their authority to rebuild the Felix Torres Camp on its original site, and can do so without abusing Merced County’s land use authority or the public’s trust.

If, as we believe the County of Merced is the land use authority and Lead Agency for the CEQA review of the Housing Authority proposed project on newly acquired property, then we request and require that the Scope of this project be broadened to include the original site of the Felix Torres Camp and all of the previous public involvement and comment on this proposal.

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller – President Steve Burke,

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- Chairman

Planada Community Development Co.

Attachment: Draft EA Comments-2005

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] Housing Authority Board of Commissioner minutes

[2] Comments on Draft Environmental Assessment 2005

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Badlands energy policy

Submitted: Feb 01, 2006

Bicycle

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Jack-hammering Castle walls

Submitted: Jan 25, 2006

More than a decade ago, Castle Air Force Base was closed and consigned to the absurdities of a local joint-use authority, composed of Merced County and the cities of Merced and Atwater (which adjoins the former base) and some representatives from other entities, like Rep. Gary Condit's office.

The “authority” dissolved in anarchy, leaving the county in control, by default. Reporters forced to cover the former committee developed physical symptoms of illness from the sheer stress of trying to cover week after week of raving lunacy about a site that has seemed, through the years, to be a dumping ground for a steady stream of business fraud and corruption.

As former Merced Sun-Star reporter, Gary Jones, Castle redevelopment’s finest poet, put it once concerning one of these projects: “Ring, ring, ring goes the bell. Bounce, bounce, bounce goes the check.”

The present redevelopment plan discussed below is basically the work of John Fowler, an able county bureaucrat who has for many years displayed an unusual knowledge and concern for the thorny problem of employment in the county. Yet, in the mysteries of the Castle, all the public ever sees is an occasional dark figure darting past a castle window, shrouded in impenetrable mists of redevelopment funding, state and federal grants, and the Stygian blackness of the Pentagon. One hopes Fowler darts well, but it probable the public will never know.

He unveiled the Castle Redevelopment Plan before the county supervisors yesterday. The plan came with a request to delay environmental review. Two members of the Planada public wrote a comment letter that triggered an automatic delay in the plan’s approval.

Why Planada, an unincorporated village of farmworkers on the eastern edge of the county, separated from the former base by fast-growing Atwater and Merced? Bearing in mind we look through these castle windows most darkly, there is apparently some continuing effort to employ the county’s seasonal or unemployed workforce on Castle grounds. The Castle is to become a “free trade zone,” which seems to permit the finishing of partially assembled import goods, bestowing the “Made in America” label, with some mysterious tax savings to manufacturers. Somehow, through a financial vehicle called “Champion Cities grants,” villages with high unemployment like Planada might send their unemployed to work at these assembly plants. This will be in much the same way as John Condren, CEO of Riverside Motorsports, who hopes to put his NASCAR-level racetrack next to the Castle, says he will partially employ mothers during school hours at menial jobs.

Bearing in mind it is not given to the public to see through stone walls or correctly interpret the movements of bureaucrats darting past dark, medieval windows, part of this redevelopment plan seems to involve an experiment in domestic maquiladora enterprise. This is basically what Mexico did in its border towns, to draw the unemployed from its central states north to assembly factories. The owners pay few if any taxes, employment and health rules are relaxed or extinguished there are few if any benefits, but the plants employ hundreds of thousands of people, mainly young women migrants from the interior. Labor organization is not encouraged.

Fowler would undoubtedly discount any public speculations on his redevelopment plan, saying the public lacked the information to form an intelligent decision.

John Fowler, the top county official at Castle, said Owens' letter was based on bad information and that it didn't raise any serious concerns. – Merced Sun-Star, Jan. 24, 2006.

But the comment letter that forced a delay in the project approval wasn’t “based on bad information.” It was based on little or no information; and that, we suggest reluctantly, is exactly how Mr. Fowler likes it. Nevertheless, Owens and Kathleen Lopez jack-hammered the Castle walls with questions the public needs to ask regardless of the chances of getting any answers out of the Castle, Fowler, or the supervisors, who we feel sure haven’t read as much of the voluminous Castle documents as Owens has.

CASTLE REDEVELOPMENT

Bryant Owens
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550 (209) 769-0832

CASTLE REDEVELOPMENT

Bryant Owens
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550 (209) 769-0832

Monday, January 23, 2006

To:
Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340 ` Via fax (209) 726-7977
And via email

RE: Public Hearing 1-24-06 et seq/ Establishment of Ordinance of the County of Merced approving and adopting the redevelopment Plan for the Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center Redevelopment Project

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for the opportunity of comment on, and object to this proposed ordinance.

In reviewing the Report to the Board of Supervisors produced by the consulting firm of Kayser Marsten in Oct. of 2005, many concerns became manifest to which we would like to direct your attention:

Notably the report of the county financial officer was incomplete: i.e.. The consultant was left to extrapolate tax benefits and/ or expected disbursals from and to the nine taxing agencies that have jurisdiction over the various portions of the project area.

Notwithstanding the guesswork in the consultants report to the board, what exactly prevents that information from being gathered and presented for your and our consideration in a timely fashion, and prior to making this decision?

The County is receiving a windfall from the USAF represented by the transfer of title (whether fee simple, or with restrictions) to the former Castle Air force Base to the County. According to the Redevelopment Plan the County will subsequently/simultaneously “?” transfer that same title to the Merced County Castle Airport Redevelopment Agency.

Beside the nine taxing agencies previously mentioned, what mechanism exists to spread this potential windfall economic boon around to the rest of the unincorporated areas of the County of Merced?

Why does the decision to invest housing set aside funding from this project, into areas outside the boundaries of the project area represent a benefit to those other unincorporated areas without a similar dedication of a corresponding percentage of the accruing rental/lease/sale or tax base funds gradually accruing over the life of the Castle Airport reuse project?

If low and very low income housing is to be built or fostered through Agency programs in other areas of the county how do the other blight alleviating benefits of the Castle Redevelopment Ordinance flow along with this redirection of low income housing into other areas of the county?

How will ALL of the additional infrastructure requirements necessary to support this redirected low income housing, be met or enhanced in areas outside the boundaries of the Castle Airport Redevelopment Plan?

What economic benefits /incentives does the Castle Redevelopment plan provide to offset the enhanced negative impacts on other blighted communities in the county which according to this proposed ordinance, must now absorb this proposed low and very low income housing?

What mechanism exists to more proportionately benefit the other unincorporated communities in Merced County in which blight is already endemic?

What mechanism exists to prevent that very blight from being fostered and further exploited, simply to allow the proposed economic development at the Castle Site?

Under California Community Redevelopment Law the Agency is authorized to enact tax increment financing as a possible funding scheme, and the referenced Report to the Board of Supervisors goes into great detail as to both the need for this financing scheme, as well as the relative potential for success and failure.

The Consultants Report to the Board of Supervisors of Oct 2005 is quite clear as to the crucial importance of securing an Cargo Transport Company as the anchor tenant of the Castle Reuse Plan, yet the bulk, of the proposed redevelopment activities are cosmetic in nature and seem tailored to the needs of the tenants and users of the current facilities. Why does this make sense?

In so far as the Board of Supervisors and the Members of the Redevelopment Agency are the same persons wearing different hats, what mechanism exists for public oversight with regard to the expenditure of County funds, as opposed to Agency funds in furtherance of this redevelopment?

What compels the Redevelopment Agency to be cautious with public funds if there is no enforceable indebtedness incurred by the Agency under the aegis of this ordinance? How does this plan interconnect with the existing Foreign Trade Zone?

If the Agency transfers title to portions of the project area to the County, how does the County avoid becoming liable (indebted) for Agency approved redevelopment activities in the execution of any of the improvement projects associated with this redevelopment? The public remains uncertain as to how the proposed Redevelopment Agency may incur indebtedness that is not ‘debt’ under the US or California Constitutions.

What prevents that indebtedness from becoming a liability of the County if and when (as the Agency is authorize to do) the Agency transfers a portion or portions of the redevelopment area to the County Board of Supervisors?

If that potential indebtedness does become a liability of the county at that point, at what point does the public have any say about the imposition of that additional collective tax liability and about servicing such debt?

What mechanism exists to compel the County to spread any of the potential economic benefits of the Castle Redevelopment to the other unincorporated areas of the county? Why shouldn’t areas, where the ‘residential beneficiaries’ of this proposed redevelopment are being directed, also receive a portion of the anticipated economic benefits of redevelopment?

To be more specific, and in the mode of comparing oranges with oranges, be reminded that the statistics referenced in the supporting documentation referred to Merced County’s losses, as a whole, when the US government stopped providing payroll for Castle AFB personnel and their families. Those statistics represent comparisons with the county’s then current employment statistics, available jobs, and available housing.

How do the redevelopment and the reduction of blight at Castle translate into countywide availability of jobs, when the new jobs will be concentrated within the project area and the new housing will be outside the project area?

How are other areas of the unincorporated Merced County to be protected from over-development of residential housing if the consultant-mandated Cargo Transport Facility is not realized in the end?

Beside the 10 year report required under the various sections of the California Health and Safety Code, pertaining to the housing set aside funding generated by this proposed redevelopment plan, what other ‘canaries’ (monitoring mechanisms) will assure the public that this infrastructure redevelopment plan is working financially for the county?

What mechanism ties the activities of the Merced Housing Authority to the Castle Redevelopment Agency, in terms of Merced County’s state obligation to provide low and very low income affordable housing, as required by (for example) RTIP grant funding from the state?

What is the date certain by which time an anchor tenant (described in the Report by Kayser Marsten as a Cargo Transport Company) must be contractually secured in order to assure the public that this redevelopment remains financially in the best interests of the county as a whole?

How are the planned and proposed infrastructure improvements in projects in close proximity to the Redevelopment Plan Area such as the RMP Motor Sport Park proposal, integrated with the proposed redevelopment project at points where those several project intersect, or in instances when the infrastructure in question is in common use by all county residents?

In making findings of consistency with the Housing Element of the County General Plan, what effort has been made to incorporate the statistics for housing development projects under County jurisdiction in the unincorporated areas of Merced County, to show that the county has met or exceeded its state mandated quotas for the various levels of available housing, and on which continued funding of other county revenue streams depend such as the Community Development Block Grant Program.

Have the impacts to the housing market from the County Supervisor’s prior approval of the University Community Plan, Vista del Lago, Yosemite Lake Estates, and any other similar SUDP expansions (i.e. internally inconsistent General Plan text amendments), and the Merced Housing Authority’s decision to demolish the Felix Torres Migrant Camp in Planada (also a severely blighted unincorporated community in Merced County) been incorporated into the estimations on which the report to the Board of Supervisors consultant makes its cautiously optimistic recommendations as to the probable success of this venture?

We feel that making any such findings of consistency with the County General Plan would be an abuse of your discretion in this matter and urge you to delay making such findings until such time as the county general plan is both internally consistent and up to date.

In making the determination to delay CEQA analysis of this project for 18 months the public is curious to know what the County has been doing over the last 5 years that Castle AFB has been under their jurisdiction that has prevented an environmental analysis of this project heretofore? Is there any legitimate reason for the delay? Castle AFB has been the subject of extensive environmental review as a superfund site, and the County has most certainly been involved with earlier environmental assessments of the designated areas during the existence of the Castle Joint Powers Authority.

We appreciate your consideration of these concerns and look forward to your timely written response to these and any other questions you may receive during public testimony on this matter on Jan 24th 2006, and what ever subsequent date you may consider this item.

Sincerely,

Bryant Owens and Kathleen Lopez

Planada Community Development Corporation

2683 South Plainsburg Road

Merced CA 95340 Cc: San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water

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Wobbly three-legged stool

Submitted: Jan 20, 2006

The three-legged stool

Viewed from an ecological perspective, rooted in the environment of the San Joaquin Valley of California, politically affairs this week seem to be perched on a very wobbly three-legged stool.

The short, skinny leg

When (funded) “value-free facilitators” begin showing up in your community, it is probably time to count the silverware or, from an ecological perspective, inventory the environmental quality of your neighborhood. We have an area called “South” Merced, where, traditionally, minority groups have lived south of the tracks and the highway. Through the years, the city has done a pretty decent job of hustling federal funds to repair and restore old single-family houses and build some multi-family apartment complexes. The county housing authority is located there. However, the area has almost no business, at least business useful to the residents, like a decent shopping center with a supermarket. In recent months, the city has proposed the development of a specific urban development plan for the neighborhood, appointed a citizen’s advisory commission and has engaging consultants to draw up a land-use plan.

What the area needs is development that pays its way for the schools it overcrowds, a decent shopping center with a supermarket, and more employment. A dark thought is that it will the area in which the city will fulfill its low-income housing quotient required to keep its general plan correct. Several new low-income complexes have already been built and more are already in the planning pipeline.

“We’re just glad to be here to facilitate this process,” said the value-free facilitator with a Crash Davis (“Bull Durham”) grasp of cliché, before a group of about 40 at a meeting two weeks ago. A number in the audience were government officials, including three city council members (including the mayor) and two supervisors. A city planner led a significant portion of the meeting.

An elderly resident complained about the governing vocabulary. “My tax bill doesn’t tell me I live in North or South Merced,” she said. “It says Merced. All we want is to have the same facilities throughout Merced.” She described 24 empty streetlights on her street. Later, an officious city councilman told the group those streetlights were in the county, not the city, so the city wasn’t responsible.

“There is something ignorant about this whole thing,” the resident commented. “Let’s use our intelligence and forget this North/South Merced.”

The value-free facilitator and the city planner went right on calling it South Merced, referring to my neighborhood as “Middle Merced.” North Merced is where the growth, induced by the arrival of UC Merced, is rapidly doubling the size of the city.

One of the neighborhood’s present dilemmas is what to do with Carl Pollard, an African-American resident of the neighborhood who, after losing six campaigns for the city council, was recently appointed to it. Less than a month after the appointment, he was charged with driving a car without insurance, with an open container of alcohol and some amount of marijuana in it. He has been fired from his realtor job. If convicted, presumably he would lose his council seat. Pollard led an invocation at the beginning of the meeting.

There are better people than Pollard, a political accident that has happened, trying to work for a decent level of services (at least one supermarket south of the tracks, for example), as development that does not pay its way rages to the north and more “low-income” housing development – horribly impacting schools in the south – is planned for the neighborhood. Perhaps, if they organize themselves, beginning by believing almost nothing of what city and county officials tell them, they will have a prayer the Rev. Pollard shall not lead.

“Value-free community organizing” facilitated from the top down by University of California personnel is illusory. What has worked in a modest way in the neighborhood has been volunteer crime watches that have existed for years. What will make things more miserable is crowding in more low-income residents to satisfy regional low-income housing mandates into an area with a chronically low level of services and usable commercial enterprises.

The fat, middle leg

A year ago, the Sacramento Bee did a series of articles exposing a classic situation of corporate power in diary processing. Hilmar Cheese had been polluting surface and groundwater near its site for years. The San Joaquin Regional Water Quality Control Board had been effectively bought off by the corporation. Publicly embarrassed, the board levied a $4-million fine against Hilmar.

After the state Water Resources Board in November refused Hilmar Cheese’s proposal to pay a fraction of the fine the regional water quality board had levied against it for polluting its area with huge quantities of wastewater, the federal EPA approved a test deep-injection well this week. Presumably, if the engineers on this project are more skillful than on the plant’s last techno-fix, the test will be successful, paving the way for injection of Hilmar Cheese’s 2-to-3 million gallons a day of waste water more than 3,000 feet below the Valley surface.

Meanwhile Hilmar’s corporate lawyers and water board lawyers continue to negotiate a settlement of the fine. The board should hear a new proposal by March, Catherine George, water board attorney, said today.

Vance Kennedy, a retired hydrologist from Modesto, told me yesterday it was as “done deal:” EPA has the power to override the state water board’s decision, on the grounds that deep injection is out of the state board’s jurisdiction over surface and ground water.” George confirmed Kennedy’s report.

“Ground water” refers to the aquifers several hundred feet down from which well water is drawn for domestic and agricultural use.

Kennedy said the EPA is using the analogy of water injection into oil and gas wells to force the products to the surface from beneath impenetrable layers. Hilmar, he said, is supposed to have a 100-foot thick layer of shale deep down, presumably impermeable.

He repeated the point he made in several hearings on the project: that water is incompressible and will move laterally, for miles, until it begins to push salty water up into groundwater aquifers lying above “impenetrable” layers.

“The sad thing is that salty water elsewhere may not show up for years or decades,” he said. He added it might not ever be possible to trace salt-water intrusion into wells back to the lateral pressure caused by Hilmar’s deep injection system.

Worse, Kennedy said, it’s a precedent for the San Joaquin Valley. Every wastewater facility from Redding to Bakersfield will be looking at this technology. EPA approved a number of wastewater deep-injection wells in Florida, providing another decade of rapid growth. The Sierra Club sued in February 2005, citing massive ecological damage. Kennedy said he’d been told Miami effluent has been traced as far away as Bermuda.

This middle leg is overweening corporate power to dominate surrounding communities and destroy their environments. Merced, the second largest dairy county in the nation, is afflicted with Big Dairy, an extremely powerful lobby from county to country devoted to the propositions: Bigger and More. The best comment I’ve heard on the economic philosophy of Big Dairy was from a small dairyman who said: when someday milk is so over-produced it isn’t worth a penny, some dairyman will say it’s a good day to buy cows.

The Hilmar Cheese deal reveals a tendency in our economy toward outright corporate ownership of government. In the lexicon of American politics exists the phrase, which covers the situation so well a book about the political career of a former Merced congressman, Tony Coelho, is titled, “Honest Graft.”

This sort of corruption tends to spiral out of control, as in the present case of the Abramoff affair. Some economists argue that eventually, the power of special interests devours the nation’s substance for the gains of very few, if gigantic firms. In the case of US transnational corporations, the approach has been to cause deep structural unemployment of domestic industrial workers and devour other nations’ substance at very low wages. The process is well advanced in the US, particularly in California, where the state budget is beginning to resemble the budget of Third World nations like Argentina and Chile, raped by utility and development corporations and thrown into the tender claws of Wall Street for the foreseeable future.

The impact of the EPA decision may go far beyond Hilmar.

The housing development industry is a radical example of the domination of sheer financial interest over the construction of subdivisions containing rows of three or four “housing products.” Everything about the structure of this “industry,” from the elaborate system of subcontracting to the pittance the state requires it pay for the schools it overcrowds, is designed to protect the developer investor from any public liability. In employs mobs of illegal aliens, heretofore always called “unskilled farmworkers,” to do highly skilled construction work for well below union wages. It has bought wholesale political and legal attacks on state and federal environmental law. It is pricing out farmers on agricultural land while making large rural landowners who sell for development rich. Development in states like California and Florida has made a mockery of any concept of urban planning.

If the deep-injection fix takes off in the Central Valley, residents and farmers will be the losers but the corporations will be the winners in the near term, which is their only time frame. Meanwhile, laws that haven’t already been written will be written to limit or exempt them from liability. But, one might object, wastewater facilities likely to jump on this fix are public entities. They are public entities driven every step of the way into surface and groundwater pollution by private development corporations. The system to protect the genuinely public interest is broken, corrupted, for sale, less and less often these days with even a pretence of being other than for sale. Growing numbers of rightwing politicians aggressively promote the ideology that public policy ought to be for sale to the highest bidder. Up and down the ranks of the Republican Party, this is considered to be “the hard, right decision.”

The local glaring, daily example is the loss of rights of existing residents of a region to the same quality of life they had before a UC campus was located in their county and development took off, running roughshod over law, regulation and resources. Against the local land-use authorities’ power to reject projects under the California Environmental Quality Act is the constant drum of developer propaganda: “Growth is inevitable.” You hear it on street corners out of the mouths of people who were once citizens but now passively accept the role of being mere subjects of alien, hostile government. It makes you wonder what else could have been done with all the money it took to convince Californians of this suicidal proposition that has, in 30 years, distorted this state out of all self-recognition, that has replaced, for private gain, a state composed of cities, towns, communities with abundant natural resources and rural economies of hope, with a slurbocracy of mere subjects.

Hilmar Cheese, “largest cheese plant in the world,” is using demonstrably bad Florida technology because its industry largely owns its regulators. Not that the EPA needed much encouragement to worsen the environment of the San Joaquin Valley. Its present administrator started his scientific career at Litton Bionetics, one of the nation’s leading developers of chemical and biological weapons: he is the perfect Bush fox for the EPA henhouse.

But, in our terribly contemporary political culture here in the 18th Congressional District, in Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, we have the epitome of the emerging one-party state, under the relentless pressure of special interest corruption. Cardoza is referred to locally simply as the south end of O Pomboza, the northern end being Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. Pombo is an exemplary modern American fascist, complete with his corruption problems linked to Abramoff, who he denies knowing, and his strong penchant for breaking laws he can’t change, like the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA decision leaves people to believe – and they are definitely meant to believe – they are powerless to stop this level of pollution, corporate irresponsibility and corruption, because the corporations, the Pomboza and the regulating agencies don’t give a damn about the people and believe they exist to do the bidding of the least responsible whim of the corporations who effectively own their own regulating agencies. Some political theorists call this form of government corporatist and describe it as a precursor to fascism. We will content ourselves with the homey old American expression, “honest graft,” well established in government during the McKinley administration, apparently the guide to all domestic politics in the W. administration.

There are residual American political tactics against such corruption. People concerned about this well and its implications for the future of groundwater in the Central Valley ought to consider starting a national boycott against Hilmar Cheese products. A boycott has the old-fashioned charm of asserting the dignity of human communities in the face of inhuman corporate power. People might find it a refreshing diversion from being oppressed and depressed by decisions affecting their lives over which they have no control.

The long, weird leg

A preface is required to begin to describe the last leg of the current stool. I’ve chosen a passage from Douglas Dowd’s book on Thorstein Veblen, an American economist who wrote this during the McKinley administration, at the turn of the 20th century:

“Business interests urge an aggressive national policy and businessmen direct it. Such a policy is warlike as well as patriotic. The direct cultural value of a warlike business policy is unequivocal. It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, and within the military organization at all times, under martial law, civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance … a military organization is a servile organization. Insubordination is the deadly sin. (The Theory of Business Enterprise, Thorstein Veblen, 1904, p. 391)

What is true of those directly involved in the military applies also to the civilian population in significant degree:

“They learn to think in warlike terms of rank, authority, and subordination, and so grow progressively more patient of encroachments upon their civil rights … At the same stroke they (patriotic ideals) direct the popular interest to other, nobler institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comfort. (Ibid. p. 393)

But for those who might see this as a triumph of business enterprise over the threat of social change led by workers, it is turned by Veblen into a hollow triumph. For, if the discipline and values of the warlike and patriotic society may “correct” the institutionally disintegrative trend of the machine process, it is just as probable that, for the same reasons there would be “a rehabilitation of the ancient patriotic animosity and dynastic loyalty, to the relative neglect of business interests. This may easily be carried so far as to sacrifice the profits of the businessman to the exigencies of the higher politics (Ibid. 395).

Thus, Veblen sees the system of business enterprise caught in a terrible historical dilemma: If, to offset the institutional and threatening imperative of industrialism, it encourages, or acquiesces in, developments that will cause social unrest to “sink in the broad sands of patriotism,” it is faced with the equal probability that what is quicksand for one will sooner or later pull down the other.

The last paragraph of the Theory might be Veblen’s epitaph for the system of business enterprise:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either. (Ibid. p. 400)

(Thus, in the late 1930s, German industrialists who had supported Nazism as a “corrective discipline” for the political and economic troubles of the early 1930’s found themselves increasingly harassed by regulation, taxation, and general interference in their affairs by Nazi Party and Wehrmacht functionaries.) – Thorstein Veblen, by Douglas Dowd, 1964, pp. 52-53.

In our suddenly radical contemporary experience in Merced, we now host UC, a university whose two national laboratories of mass destruction are now competing for the design award for new nuclear weapons. Therefore, we must ask, for what end, the Cold War having ended some years ago? Our current, neo-McKinley imperial administration cum dynastic, monarchal pretensions, aims at nothing less than world domination. Like the Nazis, the neocons didn’t come to power just to regulate, tax and interfere with business. They came with a plan for world domination. Read all about it at the Project for the New American Century (http://www.newamericancentury.org).

The details of the vision really don’t matter nearly as much as the absurd fact of the vision itself “for the spread of American ideals.” For the neocons, the vision is the only fact that matters. One observes the tendency daily in the president. In fact, as opposed to vision, America cannot even fight successfully in two war theaters, let alone the many anticipated by the PNAC. And their he-man, Ariel Sharon, is in a coma.

On the other hand, they have our UC to build new nuclear weapons.

The fat leg should be called by its name: totalitarian ambition. It has not happened yet. The Alito confirmation hearing was held up for a week. Investigations of scandals mount. The drums for impeachment tap, if inaudibly to the ears of American subjects. However, “yet” is a highly ambiguous term in such a moment, because, although we are aware of the velocity of change, we aren’t able to measure it accurately, in large part for lack of honest media. The totalitarian ambition has been an old dream of American industrialists and financiers, evident to Veblen in 1904, far more overt before the two world wars, and the Bush family has been heavily involved in it since before WWI.

The only question of any importance today is whether the American people have the intelligence to see it and the energy left, in this rapidly decaying economy, to resist it, particularly without an effective opposition political party. Appeals to the ideals of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights fall on largely deaf ears. The fundamental right for which American subjects of the British crown fought was the right of political participation. After a century of fraudulent commercial advertising and government propaganda, is there enough citizenship left in the subject population to resist the neocon plan to make the Mideast safe for Israel, US oil companies, conduct an eternal Indian War against Arabs, and subject the US population to enough terror so that it doesn’t notice the absurdity of the neocon vision and the destruction of both the domestic economy and its environment.

The question is important, however, as a preliminary to the larger, more dangerous problem of how we confront global warming and lesser forms of environmental destruction. We haven’t a prayer of avoiding the global tipping point without strong state regulation of corporate environmental destruction. It also leads one to wonder just how many UC-built nuclear bomb blasts it would take to tip the planet over the edge. It is hard to imagine anything more destructive to the environment than a nuclear bomb. But, UC Merced is an environmentally conscious campus.

And they ask why the public mind is boggled so often these days.

Veblen’s prognosis for American business is a useful anchor:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either.” (Ibid. p. 400)

“Full domination” has been achieved all too successfully. The rule of law is rapidly crumbling before this full domination. Law was the arena in which the divergent tendencies met and argued. Without law effectively protecting the rights of citizens, the United States of America ceases to be itself and the voice of reason is drowned by the screaming antinomy between privileged and desperate subjects in a rapidly deteriorating environment. The reasonable solution would appear to be something less than “full domination of business enterprise,” beginning with regulatory agencies that are permitted to perform their necessary public function, uninfluenced by either political pressure or foxes in henhouses. The political irony is that business enterprise would have to call for a rapid, perhaps radical reduction of its domination in order to save the system of government that nurtured its rise to power. That would require an act of reason probably beyond the capacity of corporate attitudes today and equally beyond the capacities of its bought and sold political class. The real road to Hell has been paved with done deals between special interests and government.

But that’s just how things look from the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in California.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution

Douglas Dowd: Thorstein Veblen

Hilmar Cheese Permitted to Drill Test Well
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11676192p-12403995c.html

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

Brooks Jackson, Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process

Upgrades planned for U.S. nuclear stockpile. Agency leader expects significant warhead redesigns...James Sterngold
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/15/MNGTTGNL5P1.DTL&type=printable

Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

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California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit in Sacramento

Submitted: Jan 14, 2006

Central Valley and Foothills cattlemen, conservationists, and state and federal resource agency officials held a historic summit Jan. 11 in Sacramento. The all-day conference was called to develop a broad action plan to implement the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Resolution, a statement of joint goals reached last year.

"Today we have embarked upon a historic partnership to preserve and enhance California's working landscapes," said California Cattlemen's Association President Mark Nelson. "The California Rangeland Resolution serves as the foundation of an extraordinary partnership between ranchers, environmentalists and governmental agencies ... Our CCA members have a unique standing with respect to the conservation of our state's rangelands, given that ranchers own and/or manage over 30 million acres in California. Given the sheer volume of property managed by ranchers, and the well-documented preference by imperiled species for these properties, it is clear that meaningful species recovery or conservation efforts require the voluntary cooperation of landowners. Put another way, the protection of our state's most valuable natural resources is highly dependent on working partnerships between conservation interests and landowners."

John Hopkins, director of Institute for Ecological Health, said, "The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an exciting and important new venture. The conservation organizations that are signatories to the Coalition's Resolution are very pleased to be working closely with agricultural organizations and a wide array of state and federal agencies in crafting and implementing the important goals of the Resolution.

"Private owned grasslands and oak woodlands around the Central Valley and its surrounding foothills support a stunning variety and abundance of native wildlife and plants. Maintaining the private ranches and their economic viability is essential for the conservation of these critically important natural habitats and their native species.

"This Coalition provides a major opportunity to achieve widespread conservation of rangeland, to aid stewardship and help maintain ranching as a viable way of life. These are steps that are necessary to maintain the many large tracts of grasslands and oak woodlands that are vital to the future of our state's wildlife. For example, vernal pool grasslands possess a rich array of endangered and threatened animals and plants that are found nowhere else in the world. The grasslands are home to the highest diversity and density of wintering birds of prey in North America. Oak woodlands are essential for hundreds of vertebrate species."

Hopkins added that, "Two key areas for future action are the 2007 federal Farm Bill and possibilities for additional funds for rangeland conservation in state bond measures." He said that the CCA and the state Farm Bureau have good relations with members of the House and Senate agriculture committees, while environmentalists have good relations with more urban members of Congress. The Coalition, putting "teams of cowboys and environmentalists in Congressional and legislative offices is very politically effective, he said. "Jaws can drop."

Paul Henson, assistant regional director of the California-Nevada US Fish and Wildlife Service office, pledged to add staff to help qualify ranchers for safe harbor agreements. In these agreements, developed in 1999, the Service will issue a permit to ranches to "enhance the propagation or survival" of an endangered or threatened species, once the Service is satisfied that actions undertaken by the landowner produce a "net conservation benefit" to the species.

Bill Chrisman, Director of the state Department of Resources, promised the members of the Coalition that the state would work on ways to streamline environmental regulations to provide certainty in a timely manner, possibly involving changes to the California
Environmental Quality Act.

Ryan Broderick, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, told the Coalition that the large blocks of land held by Valley and Foothills ranchers are "the key" to conservation of endangered and threatened species of animals and plants. In response to a question from Dan Macon, director of the Nevada County Land Trust, Broderick agreed that the future will see more public/private partnerships for the effective management of publicly held land. The CDFG now has tenant farming agreements that are both economical and good stewardship of the land. "The Department of Fish and Game does a lot of farming,” Broderick added.

California benefits less relative to its size and the value of its agricultural output from the federal Farm Bill than the Midwestern grain states do, said Michael Bean, attorney and chair of the Wildlife program for Environmental Defense, a national environmental advocacy organization. California ranchers benefit even less. The Coalition of California ranchers and environmentalists working together, presenting a unified voice before Congress, could yield better federal funding for California ranching.

Henson, (USFWS) added that the resource agencies agree that rangelands need to stay in ranching and that they need to help ranchers stay on the land by "removing regulatory disincentives and getting more funding for conservation easements."

"We have come together as one and must continue to strengthen our bond, CCA President Nelson concluded his address. "We must not let the opportunities presented by this partnership pass us by, and we look forward to transforming the targets defined earlier today into real-world, on-the-ground successes."

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition came to life through the following resolution:

The California Rangeland Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

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

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

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

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

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

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD

Alameda County Board of Supervisors

American Land Conservancy

California Cattlemen’s Association

California Resources Agency

California Wildlife Foundation

Central Valley Land Trust Council

Bureau Land Management

Defenders of Wildlife

Butte Environmental Council

Environmental Defense

California Audubon Society

Institute for Ecological Health

California Cattlemen’s Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service

California Dept of Fish and Game

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

California Dept of Food and Ag

San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

California Farm Bureau Federation

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

California Native Grasslands Association

The Nature Conservancy

California Native Plant Society

Trust for Public Land

California Oak Foundation

US Fish and Wildlife Service

California Rangeland Trust

US Forest Service

California Resource Conservation Districts

VernalPools.org

Wildlife Conservation Board

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Timing is everything

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Changes come to local raceway
Christopher H. Roberts

Tracy Press -- Jan. 6, 2005

Major changes are afoot at Altamont.

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

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

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

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

The meeting began with a blend of urgency and fatalism.

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

“Failure is not an option,” Condren said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also emphasized the large amount of work already done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

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

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
Modesto CA 95350

To: Mr. James Holland January 6, 2006

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

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

Dear Mr. Holland,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

cc: Interested parties
William Hatch, Badlandsjournal.com

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Vroooom!

Submitted: Jan 02, 2006

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

Critics' motives are tainted

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

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

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

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

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

DAVID WOOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurt Vonnegut summed it up nicely:

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

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

Bill Hatch

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Reform mood hits Valley

Submitted: Dec 19, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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