Federal Government

Winter storms drive Killer whales up Delta to Capitol

Submitted: Apr 07, 2006

Facing the peril of potential flooding of many new subdivisions built on flood plains, Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, introduced a bill to make it mandatory for homeowners to buy federal flood insurance for homes built where there is an annual one-in-200 chance of flooding. Presently, the state is on the hook for flood damage. Jones' bill required mortgage lenders to make certain homebuyers had flood insurance.

Mortgage banking lobbyists defeated the bill's enforcement provision in the Assembly Insurance Committee Wednesday. They argued that, as a result of Katrina, the federal flood insurance program was probably bankrupt so why buy federal flood insurance.

It's an absurd argument but lobbyists at public meetings have to come up with something to conceal the deal going down in private. Evidently, bankers believe they have a right to profits from their "creative" mortgages and to an endless speculative housing boom, more of it inevitably encroaching on flood plains in the Central Valley.

While developer sharks circle the Legislature daily, we don't often see the killer whales come up the river and dance on their tails. Jones, regardless of the fate of his bill, should be thanked for flushing out a bit of the financial system behind CalGrowth, Inc, which rules this state today in an absolute style not seen since the days of The Railroad.

Nine of the 10 members of the committee are from Southern California. They watched safely from the riverbank as Jones' bill and political reason were devoured by greed. While this is a perfectly normal spectacle at the state Capitol, some interest was added by the rising level of the river in which the lobbyist feeding frenzy occurred.

Seal count:

How they voted against the critical enforcement provision of AB 1898.

Yes

Ron Calderon, D-Montibello
Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles
Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach
Sally Lieber, D-Santa Clara
Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara
Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana

No

John Benoit, R-Riverside (vice chair)
Russ Bogh, R-Beaumont
Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia

Abstained

Juan Vargas, D-San Diego (chair)

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

Meanwhile, the local whining industry goes on per usual. Local government permits building on flood plains and goes whining to state and federal governments for "relief" when flood plains flood. Poor little Merced, whose city and county governments constantly raise the salaries and benefits for, at least, their "top" employees -- it just can't buy protection from floods, no matter how much money its public officials are investing in real estate.

Our leadership, in an economy fatted on every kind of government funding from cotton subsidies to UC Merced that still cannot produce enough work for its citizens, is adamantly against any government intervention except one kind: when state or federal funds flow into local coffers like Mariposa runoff.

The flood game is going to get worse due to the number of acres uphill and upstream from Merced that have been paved over and roofed over by the UC Merced-induced building boom.

Local leadership's first play in the flood game is to try to convince itself and the
remaining speculators that they are trying to do something and that floods will never,never happen again in Merced.

Its second play is going to be to blame environmentalists and natural resource agencies for floods. About the only people dumb enough to buy this are going to be real estate speculators still in this market, going nuts losing money. But a lot of them work for the county so this fable has a good start. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Vernal Pool Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is going to be whining to the leaden heavens as the rain comes down that flood damage is anyone's -- absolutely anyone's -- fault but his, beginning with railroading the UC campus through without proper environmental protection.

Local leadership is going to disappear behind its pointing fingers. You'll see a strange creature, something like a Sea urchin, rolling in and out of the county administration building, all fingers, no faces, no names. Or perhaps you'll see it floating down an MID canal, because MID isn't a flood control agency.

Absolutely the only thing real about this farce is flood water.

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

Merced Sun-Star
Estimates at $9.72M for flood damages...Doane Yawger
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12026735p-12784522c.html
First estimates from flooding earlier this week in Merced peg damage at $9.72 million...total is certain to go up as more homes, farms, businesses and public facilities are assessed.

County still awaiting disaster relief from governor's office. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, told Schwarzenegger that flooding was overwhelming local response capabilities...state assistance is needed and warranted. Ted Selb said the MID's canals sustained considerable damage...city crews were cleaning out culverts and removing obstructions from pipes to open up waterways, cleaning mud and debris off streets...water rose into streets and into some yards this week...crews Thursday morning cut a 40-foot swath in Sandy Mush Road to let water
drain on wetlands and nonproductive farmland.

Builders, schools can't reach deal...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12026741p-12784550c.html
On Tuesday, four school districts and the 26-member Building Industry Association of Central California walked away from the negotiation table again without a deal. In recent months, every major housing project before the city and county have been met with calls from educators to impose building moratoriums. March 10 offer by builders to pay the Merced City School District $3.55 per square foot for new developments. State law requires at least $2.48
per square foot...district made a counteroffer of $4.39, which was turned down by the BIA. In the meantime, construction and land costs have climbed substantially, and the buying power of funds collected for new schools has diminished...district says it will face an $88 million shortfall needed to build new facilities in the next 10 years if fees aren't increased.

We can prevent floods in future...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12026750p-12784512c.html
We have a sense that the finger-pointing has just begun. Merced Irrigation District officials and County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey say the disaster could have been avoided if the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers had finished water control projects. It's clear that a flood like Tuesday's can be avoided if the right people get together and make important decisions. Next time, a flood could be more catastrophic and cause injuries and even deaths. Our leaders must find a way to make sure there isn't another "next time."

http://www.sacbee.com/content/opinion/story/14240239p-15060058c.html
Editorial: Banking on clear skies
Mortgage industry weakens key flood bill
Sacramento Bee -- April 7, 2006

Mortgage banking in California is a multibillion-dollar business. It has thrived with the state's real estate boom and the proliferation of homes built in the low-priced floodplains of the Central Valley.

This industry also is enormously exposed. If and when a major flood occurs, the banking industry will be saddled with waterlogged, worthless homes. As in New Orleans, foreclosures will be rampant. Someone will be left holding a very soggy bag.

You might think that mortgage banks would support - or at least want to discuss - a measure to require flood insurance on vulnerable properties. Instead, the industry is using the same deceptive tactics it employs to sell questionable products (such as zero down payment, interest-only loans) to kill a bill by Assemblyman Dave Jones of Sacramento.

Before Wednesday, Jones' AB 1898 made federal flood insurance a condition of obtaining a mortgage in areas with a one-in-200 chance of flooding in any given year. Jones' bill would have required mortgage lenders to enforce the provision, which made sense because lenders have as much to lose as homeowners.

Unfortunately, the banking industry seems more concerned about short-term profits than long-term survivability. Mortgage bankers worry that an insurance requirement would scare off prospective home buyers. They used some highly deceptive arguments to effectively gut AB 1898 ...
---------------

GOP lawmakers revive Auburn Dam debate; SAVING SACRAMENTO DURING FLOOD AT ISSUE
San Jose Mercury-News – 4/7/06
By Erica Werner, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Key Republican lawmakers said Thursday that building a dam on the American River

at Auburn is the only way to protect Sacramento against catastrophic flooding that might occur once every 500 years.

But the head of the California Department of Water Resources cautioned against losing focus on flood-control projects now under way that are meant to give 200-year protection to the region.

Sacramento is now protected at only the 100-year level -- the lowest of any large urban area in the nation.

``Our focus right now in the state is that we need to be sure we get these improvements and not get distracted by the next debate over Auburn Dam,'' Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow testified at a hearing of the House Resources Committee's subcommittee on energy and water.

``The debate in the past has actually delayed investment in flood improvements in the region,'' Snow said.

Before Snow spoke, committee chair Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Stockton, and subcommittee chair Rep. George Radanovich, R-Fresno, both spoke in favor of an Auburn Dam, underscoring growing congressional interest in reviving the controversial project years after it seemed to be abandoned for good ...
----------------

San Joaquin River Continues To Rise; Mossdale Mobile Home Park Evacuated
KCRA Channel 3 (Sacramento) – 4/7/06

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Heavy runoff from recent storms is expected to tax the San Joaquin River in the coming days, state water officials said Thursday.

The river near Vernalis west of Modesto will likely reach flood stage within about five days or so, said Gary Bardini of the state Department of Water Resources.

At the Mossdale Moblie Home Park, near Manteca, a residents are packing up their belongings and moving out as the river continues to rise. A mandatory evacuation is in effect for the area.

"We've got good weather and that's going to make people wait as long as possible ... sometimes you have to get your feet a little bit damp before it's time to move," Lathrop-Manteca Fire spokesman Jim Monty said.

Reservoirs that feed the San Joaquin are nearing capacity in many cases, making significant water releases necessary. ..

"Our goal is to try to maintain flows at a level that the flood control system should perform adequately," said Bardini, noting that officials are most concerned about the San Joaquin.

But officials are also expecting more wet weather. Another storm will hit the region late Friday, with rain lasting off and on over the weekend.

Longer-range forecasts show more rain in the coming week as well.

"The good news, of course, is that we are in a break right now," said Elizabeth Morse of the National Weather Service. "The bad news is that it ends tomorrow."

Morse said the coming storm will hit hardest in Central California south of Interstate 80.

Thunderstorms are possible, posing a problem for some areas that are already saturated.

"The problem with showers and thunderstorms is that you can drop quite a bit of precipitation in a short period of time," Morse said. "Half an inch of rain in 30 minutes is going to be a real problem in some of the areas where we already have standing water."

Snow levels from this cold storm in the Sierra will remain relatively low, so officials do not expect the problem of huge runoff caused by rain falling on snow.

"Overall, this is a much more gentle system," Morse added. "Unfortunately, it's coming right on the heels of a pretty potent system."

In Calaveras County, those evacuated from about 100 houses in the La Contenta subdivision earier in the week were allowed to return home on Thursday.

A small dam at La Contenta, located near Valley Springs, threatened to fail on Tuesday. Crews have reinforced the dam with sandbags and plastic sheeting.

Thanks to calm weather Wednesday night, the Tuolumne River crested below flood stage in Stanislaus County Thursday morning.

People in the area were particularly worried about the area where Cry Creek meets the Tuolumne. The water, which surpassed levels seen during huge January storms, rose to within feet of a few homes.

In the Sierra, resorts reported a heavy blanket of new snow. At Mammoth Mountain in Mono County, the resort reported 23 inches of fresh snow, resulting in total depths of up to 264 inches in some places. #

http://www.kcra.com/money/8511490/detail.html

| »

Muir in Stockton

Submitted: Mar 20, 2006

"When we contemplate the whole Globe as one great dewdrop," Muir wrote, "striped and dotted with islands and continents, flying through space with all the other stars, all singing and shining together as one, the whole Universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty" ...

"Muir said the fight we are fighting has no end," White said. "The real Muir was kind of dangerous." -- Stockton Record, March 19, 206
---------------

It has been fashionable in American intellectual circles to talk about the "end of history" since the conclusion of the Cold War. (Now, when was that, exactly?) An American empire would control the world through the genius of globalcorporate domination backed by US nuclear weapons, so why bother with history -- was how the argument went.

This propaganda, made to persuade public opinion that America, the super power, is lord and master of the Great Game of Empire, has resulted in a general trashing of the whole subject of history. Without it, conservatives have become as rootless and exploitive as the environmental gutting Pomboza (representatives RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced).

Merced proudly calls itself "Gateway to Yosemite," an overcrowded, polluted and
river-polluting concession stand that fills up that great valley in the high Sierras. It is unimaginable today, except through paintings from the turn of the last century, to grasp what John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt saw in Yosemite when they camped there, discussing the establishment of the national park system the Pomboza would like to sell off to miners and loggers, as if miners and loggers did not exist in the 1890s.

Muir himself may be unimaginable except to those who had relatives born in California before Muir died and heard the stories of Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy and Muir and grew up with the conservation ethic and a feeling for the high Sierras.

When, stepping ever so briefly out of the Era of the Pomboza, some remind themselves of the impact John Muir had on our elders, this region, this state, this nation and the world, they wonder what Muir might have thought of the present moment. Something harsh stirs in the wind.

Muir inspired and informed the greatest spirit and vision California ever had. It was tied to the beauty and grandeur of our environment; and it would be foolish to deny its impact on the great literary tradition forming here as he fought to preserve Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy -- Frank Norris, Mary Austin, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, Ambrose Bierce, Joaquin Miller, Josiah Royce.

But, says the rear end of the Pomboza, we now have UC Merced and its fabulous Sierra Nevada Research Institute, represented in the following UC Bobcat Flak, so we don't need history.

http://www.ucmerced.edu/research/snri.asp

Sierra Nevada Research Institute

The SNRI is creating new knowledge on questions of national and international scope through the prism of the natural laboratory that is UC Merced's home – the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada region. It is carrying out research on the critical issues that affect humankind's ability to live in an environmentally sustainable way such as:

population growth and development
water and watersheds
air quality
fire ecology
biodiversity
climate change
transportation
resource management and policy
public recreation
These issues are especially vital to sustaining the unparalleled agricultural resources and magnificent natural landscapes of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada.

The Sierra Nevada Research Institute will draw in the natural sciences, engineering and policy sciences.

UC Merced, described by prominent critics as both a boondoggle and a pork barrel for Valley developers, has created an academic boondoggle and pork barrel with its SNRI. An anchor tenant of corruptly planned, purely destructive urban growth in one of the worst air quality basins in the nation, sitting at the feet of the Sierras and Yosemite, the SNRI is just another aspect of the big real estate deal behind the establishment of this campus.

Muir might have wondered: How can this public/private conglomerate university, inventor of the atomic bomb and designer of every subsequent advance in the technology of nuclear mass destruction including an on-going competition between its two national laboratories on the next generation of nuclear weapons, walk these trails in these mountains, and learn or teach
anything about the conservation of anything?

It's a matter of ethics, he might have said -- not the ethics of destroying environmental law, regulation and agencies for the benefit of developers, family and political contributors; not the ethics of scientific grant whoring for a ecological disaster your institution is creating by the day.

Neither the University of California nor the Pomboza are known for ethics. They are known for aggression against the environment.

Perhaps there is a connection between the wholesale corruption of the era and the disdain for history. History provides examples of heroes like Muir and bums like the Pomboza. History asks the most difficult questions, like: How did California evolve into a society of 36 million people distracted to the point of near political idiocy by the abundance of their neighbors and the limits of their natural resources? How did California politicians go from the pockets of the Railroad through a prolonged period of progressive, clean government to
the pockets of the developers? Why do developers have to pay so much to buy votes, bills and laws for their benefit?

Although scholars may meet at University of the Pacific in Stockton at the end of the month over Muir's papers, it is the challenge of the story of his life to the story of our lives that is the point of the meeting, as far as the public is concerned. What do you want, the vision of John Muir or the vision of the Pomboza? Muir's medicine stings like hell, the Pomboza's is as soothing as cool lard. Which one is good for you?

Sometimes, the story that revives is too close to see -- like a backyard weed instead of a prescription drug.

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

Conservation pioneer
Pacific event to examine the legacy of John Muir

PAULA SHEIL
Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, Mar 19, 2006
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060319/ENT/603190302/1001/NEWS01

STOCKTON - The life of John Muir inspires poets, botanists, rock climbers and cloud watchers.

He died on Christmas Eve in 1914, but he's alive today in the hearts of millions of tourists and trekkers to scenic lands around the world.

He founded the Sierra Club in 1892 with the hope of influencing generations to preserve wild places from development. After a three-day camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, Muir secured the protection of Yosemite, one of the United States' grandest natural wonders, for posterity and helped establish our national parks system.

Muir scholars and those drawn to him will meet March 30-April 1 at University of the Pacific for a three-day conference titled "John Muir in Global Perspective." Its speakers include author Robert Righter, who will give the keynote address on Hetch Hetchy. The place prompted some of Muir's most eloquent prose and spurred the growth of the environmental movement when the sister valley to Yosemite was dammed and flooded to produce a water supply for San
Francisco in 1923.

Other conference speakers include Bonnie Gisel, author of "Kindred and Related Spirits" (University of Utah Press, 2001), who was interested in the relationships that influenced Muir's ideas.

Muir was a self-taught inventor and displayed some of his contraptions, including a bed that would toss the sleeper upright, at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1860. Jeanne Carr, the wife of a university professor, met him and from then on guided his career, Gisel said. Carr suggested books, encouraged his writing and thinking, and sent men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson to meet him after he had sequestered himself in Yosemite. She even had a hand in his marriage to Louie Wanda Strentzel, an educated woman who recognized Muir's worth to the world
and let him wander the globe while she raised their two daughters.

Gisel spends six months of her year in a tent and curates the La Conte Memorial Lodge, an environmental education center in Yosemite. She will be talking about Muir the botanist at the conference.

Muir's vision of Earth as an interdependent biosphere predated the dumbfounded gaze of astronauts who looked down at the planet from space.

"When we contemplate the whole Globe as one great dewdrop," Muir wrote, "striped and dotted with islands and continents, flying through space with all the other stars, all singing and shining together as one, the whole Universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty."

Today, however, the protective regulations that have been put in place are being eroded.

To fund a federal program that sends money to rural counties, the Bush administration is proposing to sell 200,000 acres of national forest across the United States, including up to 3,300 acres of the Stanislaus National Forest in Calaveras County. Environmentalists wonder if national parks are next.

"I think the selling of national forests is robbing future generations for a few bucks today that won't make a dent in the budget," said Bill Muir Hanna, Muir's great-grandson. "One of the most important points that John Muir observed very early on is (everything) ... is hitched to everything else in the universe."

However, the conference focuses on history, not activism, said Bill Swaggerty, the conference coordinator and director of the John Muir Center at Pacific. Its value is to expand Muir's message further afield and find out what other countries are doing as a result of his being and writing.

Pacific is home to the John Muir Center, and in the basement of the library, in the
Holt-Atherton Collections, are his thousands of letters and documents, 27 notebooks, 84 journals and sketchbooks, 300 drawings and related photographs, and papers of those who knew him and influenced his thinking. The bulk of Muir's work resides at Pacific because Muir Hanna, a Pacific alumnus, suggested the university for its commitment to undergraduate education and its small size, he said.

Other scholars include Graham White, a fellow Scotsman, who will talk about Muir's return trip to his homeland in 1893. Muir's seaside ancestral home in Dunbar, Scotland, is developed with subdivisions similar to those crawling across the Golden State's landscape.

"Muir said the fight we are fighting has no end," White said. "The real Muir was kind of dangerous."

Faced with the land-grabbing, the timber-hauling and the cattle-ranging, "a lesser man would say nothing could be done," White said. "Today, it takes the same courage to stand up and be counted. We have no equivalent organization in our country."

| »

Midnight government in Merced County

Submitted: Mar 17, 2006

During the second annual national Sunshine Week, to underscore the need for more open government and the protection of California’s Public Records and Brown acts and other open government statutes, we are publishing for the first time the 2002 petition for San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water for relief from three years of stonewalling by Merced County regarding public record documents on the UC Merced project.

Petitioners won this suit. The results of the victory were ambiguous, however.

The local Superior Court judge, William Ivey, reduced attorneys’ fees and costs by half to petitioners’ winning attorneys, as warning to all attorneys suing in Merced County on public process or environmental law, that they would be punished by the local court for daring to do so. Although Ivey has retired, his policy lives on.

Although Merced County was forced to make these documents available to petitioners, much of the work reflected in the numerous studies remains yet to be done four years later, proving that UC Merced was built on a series of plans-to-make-plans to mitigate for its environmental impacts, with the enthusiastic collaboration of Merced County, the local land-use jurisdiction.

During the planning of UC Merced, the county was so eager to comply with UC demands that it formed a wholly separate planning department just for the UC Merced project, with separate offices and staff, placing the former county planning director and county CAO in charge, while the county promoted two subordinates to the positions of county CAO and county planning director.

In a March 13, 2006 Modesto Bee article http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html,
Greg Wellman reflected on this suit. Wellman was the Merced County CAO who became CEO of the UC Planning Department, said,
“I think a large amount of what she’s asking for is just a reflection of our democratic process,” he said. “I might personally feel some of the issues raised are not consequential, but those are personal feelings. She has a right to public information — pure and simple.”

Back then, though, Wellman said handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit.

“Back then,” a whole lot of costly lawsuits could have been avoided if the county, the local land-use authority, had not done everything in its power to conceal the UC Merced planning process from its local public, the people now impacted by the anticipated UC Merced-induced rapid growth, speculative housing boom, the wholesale destruction of natural resources, wildlife habitat and agricultural land by developers who figure if UC got away with it, they can, too. “Back then,” UC Merced was promoted by a small, powerful group of special interests: local legislators, large landowners, developers, financial institutions, realtors, and local businesses. They are now taking their profits. The citizens, who were sold out by corrupt county officials like Wellman and his top planner at the UC Planning Department, Bob Smith, now get the traffic, the deteriorated air quality, water of uncertain quantity and quality, and the endless stream of Bobcat Flak from UC Merced in the local newspaper.

The citizens will be stuck with $200 million costs for roads alone from the UC Merced project, as was stated by a UC attorney in a letter to the state Supreme Court in support of a suit that would release state agencies from any obligation to pay for off-site environmental impacts from their construction projects. (Marina, City of v. Board of Trustees, Case S117816, Supreme Court of California)

Labeled at the time by then President Pro Tem of the state Senate, John Burton, as a “boondoggle,” and by senior Sacramento Bee state Capitol columnist, Dan Walters, as “a barrel of pork,” UC Merced, we predict, will go down in the annals of California history of the “Catch Me If You Can” Era, as a legal and environmental scandal; and there will be a special place of notoriety reserved for county, state and federal legislators, state and federal resource agencies and national environmental non-profit corporations like The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society. It began as a political payoff by an ambitious governor, Gray Davis, to Valley politicians. We know what happened to Davis. The growth it is stimulating today the rapid destruction of natural resources, is ruining farming and ranching in the region, and is contributing daily to increased smog in the worst air basin in the US.

Since elected in 2002, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has occupied offices on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. Today, Cardoza is the leading anti-environmental Democrat in the House of Representatives, having authored two unsuccessful bills to destroy the critical habitat designation, and co-authored a third, with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Merced County will never become a responsible local land-use authority and planning agency as long as the Shrimp Slayer is squatting on the third floor.

Bill Hatch

Even today, Merced County does not comply with Public Records Act requests or environmental law and regulation. They are still orchestrating backroom deals, for example, this, Feb. 3, 2006 communication from a prominent developer and a county supervisor:

Feb. 3, 2006:

Hostetler, thinking he is making a call to Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, leaves a message on someone else’s answering machine:

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

BRUCE A. OWDOM - 077670
PETER G. FASHING - 195756
DIETRICH, GLASRUD, MALLEK & AUNE
An Association Including Law Corporations
5250 North Palm Avenue, Suite 402
Fresno, California 93704
(559) 435-5250
(559) 435-8776 [fax]

Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue
Center, Protect Our Water (POW),
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke

SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA

COUNTY OF MERCED

SAN JOAQUIN RAPTOR RESCUE CENTER, a California nonprofit corporation, PROTECT OUR WATER (POW), an unincorporated organization, LYDIA M. MILLER, an individual, and STEVE BURKE, an individual,

Petitioners,

-vs-

COUNTY OF MERCED, COUNTY OF MERCED BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, and DOES 1 through 25, inclusive,

Respondents.
__________________________________________

CASE NO.

PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDATE PURSUANT TO CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

[Government Code Section 6258]

1. The San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center (“SJRRC”), a California nonprofit corporation, whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources,habitats and wildlife, is a beneficially interested party. SJRRC is charged with the protection of various species of wildlife and with ensuring that commercial, industrial and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. SJRRC serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, as well as private entities, in their promotion of such development.

2. Protect Our Water (“POW”) is an unincorporated organization whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources, habitats and wildlife and is a beneficially interested party. Petitioner POW is charged with ensuring that commercial, industrial, and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. Petitioner POW serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, and private entities, in their promotion of such development.

3. Lydia M. Miller, a private citizen, is a resident of Merced County and is a beneficially interested party. Ms. Miller shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the development of the new University of California Merced campus (“U.C. Merced Project”) is insufficient to inform the public adequately as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of public funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Ms. Miller also serves as president of the SJRRC.

4. Steve Burke, a private citizen, is a beneficially interested party. Mr. Burke, like Ms. Miller, shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the U.C. Merced Project is insufficient to adequately inform the public as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Mr. Burke also serves as spokesperson for POW.

5. SJRRC, POW, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke also have standing as members of the public at large to enforce rights of public access to information and records that reflect the actions taken by governmental agencies and employees in their official capacities.

6. The County of Merced (“County”) was, and is at all times herein mentioned, a body corporate and politic, duly created and existing as a county under and by virtue of the Constitution and laws of the State of California.

7. The County of Merced Board of Supervisors (“Board of Supervisors”) is the governing body of the County of Merced, whose members are duly elected under and by virtue of the laws of the State of California.

8. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that respondents identified herein as Does 1 through 25 are public agencies, or their agents, representatives, or employees, as defined in Government Code section 6252(a), (b) and (d), and that each is also, in some manner, responsible for refusing petitioners’ requests for access to and copies of certain public records that petitioners have requested. Petitioners will seek leave to amend this petition when the names and capacities of these Doe respondents have been ascertained.

9. Petitioners seek relief against each respondent because respondents County and the Board of Supervisors have refused to disclose certain public records which petitioners have requested as more fully alleged below.

10. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that in or about 1995, the Board of Regents of the University of California (“Regents” or “U.C.” as the context may require) selected certain land located in the County as the site of its tenth campus. Following the selection of the university site, the County made certain amendments to its General Plan to accommodate the construction of the new campus and to establish area objectives with respect to the U.C. Merced Project, including, but not limited to, resource and wetland conservation, low impact urban development, and timely construction of the campus. The U.C. Merced Project has involved the interaction of several federal, state and local agencies, private entities and consultants in addition to community involvement.

11. On November 22, 1999, petitioner Lydia M. Miller sent a letter to Robert Smith, planning director for the Merced County U.C. Development Office, which is in charge of coordinating the activities of various departments and consultants working on the U.C. Merced Project. The November 22, 1999, letter requested that 24 separate, itemized documents and studies related to the U.C. Merced Project be produced. See exhibit A attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

12. On February 12, 2001, Ms. Miller and Steve Burke of POW sent a second request addressed to Robert Smith and then County Administrative Officer (“CAO”), Gregory B. Wellman, requesting public records pursuant to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). This second request sought documents related to County General, Community and Specific plans officially adopted by Merced County, including the plans themselves as last officially amended and adopted. The request also sought correspondence between the County and various departments and agencies concerning the County’s implementation and compliance with various laws and the County’s strategies related to population growth projections. The request likewise sought records relating to specific action taken by the Board of Supervisors on February 6, 2001. See exhibit B attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

13. On May 25, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke sent a third request to then CAO Gregory B. Wellman and planning director Robert Smith requesting certain documents pursuant to the CPRA. The May 25, 2001, letter requested public records pertaining to reimbursement and funding issues, planning, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence as it related to three areas: (1) the Merced County Integrated Plan, (2) $30 million set aside for acquisition of habitats, and (3) the Joint Statement of the County of Merced and the University of California Regarding Conservation Planning and Permitting in Eastern Merced County in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit C attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

14. On or about June 7, 2001, Fernanda A. Saude, Assistant County Counsel, on behalf of Dennis L. Myers, Merced County Counsel, responded to the May 25, 2001, request. The response stated, in relevant part, as follows:

Your request is not specific enough for us to discern exactly what you are asking for. The County in the past has provided you with the following documents:

* The Joint Statement of the County of Merced and University
of California for Conservation Planning and Permitting in
Eastern Merced County[,]

* The Merced County Integrated Plan (MCIP)[,]

* County consulting contracts, excepting those with attorneys
that are confidential or otherwise privileged.

See exhibit D attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

15. On August 6, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested that Messrs. Wellman and Smith reconsider the response provided by Assistant County Counsel Saude. Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke noted that despite the County’s contention that the request did not reasonably describe records, all of the other five public agencies to whom similar requests had been made fully complied. In addition, petitioners noted that from their review of the other agencies’ responses, that responsive documents such as correspondence, notes, memoranda, staff reports, meeting minutes, and the like, exist. Petitioners asked that compliance occur promptly given that the public period on the environmental review was fast approaching. See exhibit E attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

16. On August 21, 2001, petitioners advised the County, planning director Smith and then CAO Wellman that serious problems were being encountered by those members of the public who desired to participate in the environmental review process as provided in the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Included among these problems was the lack of availability of documents which were the subject of the various CPRA requests at issue herein. See exhibit F attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

17. On August 22, 2001,a fourth request was made to Robert Smith and members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings. The request sought public records related to the Long Range Development Plan (“LRDP”) and U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In this regard, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested documents related to the findings of the Regents in 1995 which led to the certification of the “Site Selection EIR” as referred to in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) for the LRDP. See exhibit G attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

18. Also on August 22, 2001, a fifth CPRA request was made. This fifth request was addressed to Messrs. Wellman and Smith as well as to the Board of Supervisors and sought public records relating to contract work performed by consultants in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit H attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

19. On August 27, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke made a sixth request pursuant to the CPRA. This sixth request was addressed to then CAO Wellman as well as the members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings and requested 13 categories of documents all related to or necessary for an evaluation of the U.C.’s LRDP and the DEIR for the proposed campus in eastern Merced County. See exhibit I attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

20. On or about August 30, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude wrote petitioners again contending that the petitioners’ request was too general for the County to comply. Ms. Saude also wrote that certain information (e.g., information communicated between consulting contractors and their subcontractors and findings referenced in the DEIR for the LRDP) were not “retained or controlled” by the County. See exhibit J attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

21. On August 31, 2001, attorneys for petitioners wrote to Messrs. Wellman and Smith and contended that, contrary to Assistant County Counsel Saude’s letter of June 7, 2001, the May 25, 2001, CPRA request contained sufficient specificity and that all other agencies to whom the same requests were made were able to comply. Petitioners’ attorneys requested that the County reconsider its insistence on further clarification and asked that the County provide a definitive response to the request. The August 31, 2001, letter further requested that, in the event the County contended certain requested documents were exempt, the remainder be released and its refusal to disclose withheld documents be justified. See exhibit K attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

22. On September 10, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude responded to counsel for petitioners’ August 31, 2001, letter stating categorically that the petitioners’ requests of May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, are denied. Ms. Saude reiterated the County’s continuing position that the requests were of insufficient specificity under the CPRA. Ms. Saude countered petitioners’ statement that all other agencies found the requests sufficiently specific with the following statement:

So that there is no uncertainty on the part of you or your clients, the County has denied your clients’request as previously stated until such time as your clients are able to reasonably identify the documents which they are requesting to inspect. . . .

. . . Moreover, how other public agencies may respond to your clients’ request is neither relevant to nor binding upon the County of Merced.

See exhibit L attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference. Petitioners allege that contrary to Ms. Saude’s contention, the fact that other public agencies had no difficulty in complying with the request based upon the same descriptors is relevant to the sufficiency of the descriptions. Petitioners further contend that respondents’ failure to comply is unjustified and in violation of the CPRA, Government Code section 6258 et seq.

23. On October 29, 2001, petitioners’ attorney again wrote to the County. This letter was addressed to Assistant County Counsel, Fernanda A. Saude who, to that date, had undertaken responses on behalf of respondents to petitioners’ CPRA requests. The letter set forth a detailed description of the six prior requests made by petitioners as alleged above, attached copies thereof, and reiterated that each of the requests were being made pursuant to the CPRA. Specifically, Ms. Saude was informed that (1) no response was received in connection with the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests; and (2) that as to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, the County’s denial of the requests on the basis they did not reasonably identify documents was in error. To illustrate the error, counsel’s correspondence cited case law which held that CPRA requests need only describe the content of documents due to the requestor’s lack of access to agency files and the resulting inability of the requestor to identify precisely the documents. The letter asked that the County reconsider its denial of the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests. The letter also specifically requested a response to the unacknowledged November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001 and August 27, 2001, requests. See exhibit M attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

24. On September 14, 2001, attorney Donald B. Mooney, on behalf of the petitioners, wrote then CAO Mr. Wellman advising that the County had violated CEQA and CEQA guidelines. The letter highlighted deficiencies in the County’s public notice procedures relating to the availability of environmental documents for public review. The letter requested a re-noticed review period and remedies related to errors in circulation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report. See exhibit N attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

25. To date, no response has been received from respondents to petitioners’ attorney’s October 29, 2001, letter. Similarly, the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests (even though re-requested by the October 29, 2001, letter complete with copies thereof) remain unacknowledged and without response. As to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, respondents persist in their denial of the requests despite the adequacy of the content descriptions and petitioners’ inability to provide greater detail.

26. Petitioners contend the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records subject to disclosure. The documents requested by the November 22, 1999, request include the following reports and studies: Fresh Water Crustacean Report by EIP; Water Supply Plan by Hill; GIS maps; Vernal Pool Study; LRDP Plan; Habitat Planning; Campus Parkway Express Plan; CPAC Meeting Notification; East Merced Draft Report; Community Plan for U.C.; Draft Report of Soils, Habitat and Rare Species Associated; Draft Report on Soils Report; Merced River Study, Stake Holders and TAC; Concept Report; Regional Transportation Plan (MCAG); University Community Concept (EIP); California Central Economics (PG&E); Water Study by East Merced Resource Conservation District; Sierra Nevada Research Institute; University Wide Academic Senate Task Force on U.C. Merced; Task Force on U.C. Merced; U.C. Merced Research Advisory Committee; Campus Alignment Study; Financial accounting of incoming and outgoing funds associated to the proposed U.C. Campus and Community Plan and associated studies. The County has refused to even acknowledge this request. As with the other CPRA requests at issue, there is no justification for non-disclosure.

27. The documents requested by the February 12, 2001, request include, but are not limited to, the following: the County General, Community, Specific and Specific Urban Development plans (“SUDP”), the County’s General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise, and Open Space Elements, including all incorporated diagrams, maps, policies and texts; officially adopted resolutions and ordinances adopting the SUDP; written policies, correspondence, reports and studies of County boards, commissions and planning committees relating to the SUDP and General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise and Open Space Elements; legislative history re: ordinances or resolutions adopting the 1996 General Plan Text Amendments which adopted Land Use Policy Goal No. 11 and amendments to the Land Use Policy Diagram; information relating to pending General Plan Text Amendments; information relating to General Plan map or text amendment applications since 1990; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Housing re: compliance with Housing Element law; correspondence between the County and California Division of Mines and Geology re: compliance with mining and reclamation ordinances and related reports and studies; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Finance regarding population growth and related reports and studies; and agendas, notices, and minutes related to Board of Supervisor’s action on February 6, 2001.

28. The May 25, 2001, CPRA request seeks documents pertaining to planning, reimbursement, funding, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence related to the following three areas: the Merced County Integrated Plan; a $30 million acquisition of sensitive habitats, and the Joint Statement of the County and U.C. re: conservation planning and permitting.

29. Two separate CPRA requests, dated August 22, 2001, seek documents pertaining to contract work performed since 1985 by EIP Associates, Economic and Planning Systems, Fehr & Peers Associates, and Nolte & Associates in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. The first request included items such as “emails, meeting minutes and agendas, internal memos, etc.” The second request made that same date seeks public records pertaining to the LRDP and the U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In that regard, petitioners specifically sought the “Regent’s findings made in 1995 in connection with certifying . . . the ‘Site Selection EIR[]’”as well as other documents such as staff reports, resolutions and ordinances supporting or setting forth the 1995 certification.

30. The August 27, 2001, CPRA request sets forth thirteen specific subject areas for which public records are sought. These areas include documents relating to (1) the standards to be applied by the Committee on Grounds and Buildings (“Committee”) when choosing among alternative sites and design alternatives; (2) the U.C.’s decision to select among alternatives discussed in the March 2001 Comprehensive Alternatives Analysis of the U.C. Merced and Community Project (“CAA”); (3) the Committee’s deliberations or decisions regarding alternative U.C. sites; (4) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in implementing CEQA; (5) the U.C.’s environmental policies and procedures in choosing campus sites, facilities and improvements; (6) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in drafting and distributing long range development plans; (7) the legal authority relating to drafting long range development plans; (8) the U.C.’s policies and procedures re: conducting taxpayer/U.C. economic analyses in connection with campus site selection; (9) the U.C.’s legal and/or equitable ownership or leasing of Fresno County properties; (10) alternative offers of other property owners to provide land for the proposed campus; (11) reasons why the single campus as proposed in County are preferable to other alternatives; and (12) the 85 potential campus site alternatives. An additional thirteenth category seeks documents related to the U.C. Merced Project which were authored by or on behalf of Representative Gary Condit, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, Senator Dick Monteith, Governor Gray Davis, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Resources Secretary Mary Nichols and other elected officials or agency members.

31. Petitioners allege that the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records as that term is used in the CPRA. The requested documents relate to the conduct of the public’s business in developing a tenth campus in the University of California educational system. Substantial public funds are being expended in developing the campus and in undertaking all the various environmental, fiscal, educational, commercial and suburban studies and reports related to the U.C. Merced Project. The requested information is necessary for the public to analyze and evaluate the performance of the County and other government agencies in developing the campus. The documents will allow the public to understand whether its significant financial contribution to the U.C. Merced Project is being wisely spent and whether the County is proceeding in accordance with applicable laws and regulations for a project of this magnitude.

32. Petitioners allege disclosure will also shed light on whether appropriate and/or inappropriate considerations have been involved in the decision making processes of the various governmental agencies and officials involved, including, but not limited to, the County and its duly elected officials.

33. Petitioners allege that the public has a right to know how its funds, including tax revenues, are being spent and whether its duly elected officials are undertaking the U.C. Merced Project in a fiscally and environmentally sound manner. The documents sought are necessary to such determinations. Furthermore, petitioners allege that CEQA requires the respondents to ensure that the public can obtain and review all documents upon which the agency relies in making environmental decisions and therefore constitutes another basis for disclosure. The shared expertise of petitioners and others who desire to review requested documents will serve to ensure that elected and other officials make sound decisions related to the U.C. Merced Project.

34. Each of the six CPRA requests at issue have reasonably described identifiable records as required under California Government Code section 6253(b). In violation of the CPRA, respondents have simply ignored three of the petitioners’ CPRA requests. As to the remaining three CPRA requests, respondents have avoided and ignored their responsibilities by making frivolous contentions that each of the categories of requested documents does not sufficiently describe the records sought. Respondents have violated the CPRA by not making said records available to petitioners for inspection. Furthermore, respondents have failed to identify any exemption (except for attorney-client privilege) upon which they might rely to justify non-disclosure. Respondents have made no effort to comply with the CPRA and instead choose to either ignore petitioners’ CPRA requests outright or to feign an inability to discern the records requested. By way of this petition for writ of mandate, petitioners seek a writ commanding disclosure of the requested documents.

35. Petitioners have no plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law, other than the relief sought in this petition, pursuant to Government Code section 6258.

WHEREFORE, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke pray for relief as follows:

1. That the court grant the petition and issue a peremptory writ commanding respondents, and each of them, including respondents’ agents and employees, to disclose immediately to petitioners originals or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

2. Alternatively, that the court order respondents, and each of them, to show cause why respondents should not be required to disclose immediately to petitioners original or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, and all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

3. For costs and attorneys’ fees as provided by the California Public Records Act; and

4. For such other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.

DATED: May ____, 2002.
DIETRICH, GLASRUD, MALLEK & AUNE

BY:________________________________
BRUCE A. OWDOM
PETER G. FASHING
Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor
Rescue Center, Protect Our Water (POW)
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke

| »

Sun shines on government in Modesto, but not in Merced

Submitted: Mar 16, 2006

Badlands Journal appreciates the Modesto Bee’s emphasis this week on the second annual, national Sunshine Week. We note, however, that it remains overcast in Merced. There is no excuse for this except the “independence” of the local Sun-Star publisher. The Sun-Star is a McClatchy paper, like the Modesto Bee. However, the Sun-Star appears as a matter of editorial policy to be against protecting and promoting open government for all citizens. That’s a rotten definition of journalistic independence, in the opinion of Badlands Journal.

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

Secrecy on the March:
Making the Case for Sunshine Week

… Sunshine Week is not about journalists, it's not about partisan politics, it's about the public and the importance of protecting and promoting open government. Sunshine Week is not about protecting journalists' rights, it's about the right of all citizens to know what their government is doing—and why. -- http://www.sunshineweek.org/
------------------------------------

Message from Bee Editor and Senior Vice President Mark S. Vasché

Modesto Bee -- March 12, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690450c.html

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Sunshine Week.

Over the course of the week, we’ll be shining a light on open government, with stories, editorials and columns designed to help you understand the importance of public access to government proceedings and records – and the growing attempts to limit that access.

We’ll help you understand that open government is an issue that affects every citizen, not just journalists.

We’ll help you understand your rights as a citizen, show you how to file a public records request and tell you what to do if your request is denied.

We’ll tell you what happened when we went out and asked 21 local agencies for public documents. We’ll tell you what happened when a First Amendment group made the same request of 31 state agencies. And, we’ll tell you what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and across the country.

We’re not alone in doing this. Newspapers, magazines, broadcast outlets and Web sites throughout the nation are joining The Bee in observing Sunshine Week.

Why? Because a government that ceases to be open and accessible to its citizens ceases to be a government of, by and for the people. And, we never want that to happen.

Mark S. Vasché

Editor and Senior Vice President
-----------------------

Paper Trails

Modesto Bee -- March 12, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690451c.html

Here are some records to which people have access:

Jail logs -- You can see who's in jail, their ages, hometowns and the offenses for which they were arrested.

Elected officials' statements of financial interest -- Called Form 700, the California Fair Political Practices Commission says each elected and appointed official and certain public employees must file one annually. City hall is required to keep them on file.

Property records -- You can learn the assessed value of the homes in your neighborhood, see who has owned them and what they paid and sold them for, find out zoning and get other information at the county assessor's office.

Restaurant inspection reports -- The county health department issues reports on every restaurant in town. Find out if your favorite restaurant meets cleanliness standards.

Bankruptcies and divorces, civil and criminal court files -- Most court cases in California are open to the public, though judges can choose portions to be sealed, such as search warrants. The only real exception is juvenile court -- all records are closed.

Employment contracts of public officials -- You can compare your city manager's contract with those in similar towns, or find out how your school district superintendent's salary and benefits stack up against others.

Voter registration -- An Internet database allows people to look up the names, addresses and phone numbers of all registered voters (though some people choose not to have their numbers listed).

The city budget -- You can see how your city spends the money that comes in. You can even look at the monthly bills.

Development agreements -- These allow someone to see whether developers follow through on their commitments.

City or county staff reports -- What proposals do staffers generate and how do they justify the costs?
-----------------------------------

Tips on making a request for a public document

Modesto Bee -- March 12, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690452c.html

Preparing your request

1. Identify the record you want. Knowing the specific document type – a birth certificate or a building permit, for example – will make it easier to direct your request.

2. Identify the agency that has it. Government operates at several levels, so be sure to ask the county for county records, the city for city records, and so forth.

3. Check the agency's Web site to see if the information is available online. More and more, government agencies are posting documents online, so Web sites are worth a look.

4. Find out when the agency is open and its location. You'll save a lot of time and
frustration by knowing the hours of operation.

5. Plan your visit. Expect delays. Go early enough in the morning or afternoon so clerks have time to fulfill your request before lunch or closing time. Park where you won't have to worry about feeding a meter. If you plan to photocopy documents, make sure you have enough money to cover the cost.

At the agency

1. You do not have to prove or even state a "need to know" to justify access.

2. You don't need to explain why you want the record.

3. Your request need not be in writing.

4. You don't need to identify yourself, with a few exceptions. The law requires

identification only when you seek information about pesticides or the addresses of people arrested or crime victims.

5. You have the right to inspect records, but the agency need not compile lists or write reports. For instance, the county assessor's office could produce records of home sales on your block but would not be required to compute the median sales prices or otherwise analyze the data for you.

6. You may be charged a fee for copying records, but not for looking at them.

Overcoming obstacles

1. The agency is obligated to do its best to help you find what you want. Your request should be reasonably clear, but if you need help describing exactly what you need, don't be afraid to ask for help.

2. You should expect prompt access to the records. Delay is allowed only to resolve good-faith doubts on whether all or part of a record is accessible by the public.

3. If there is a dispute over whether a record is open to inspection, the agency has 10 days in which to produce it or provide a written reason for denial. That 10-day delay applies only when there is a dispute over whether the document is exempt from inspection. Otherwise, the document must be produced promptly – which generally should be the day you ask.

4. Occasionally, documents may not be immediately available. For example, old records may be stored at a different location. If you'd like, you may leave your name and contact information so the agency can alert you when the record is ready. But you do not have to identify yourself and always have the option of returning to the agency later.

5. If the agency declines your request, it must justify doing so by citing the law, either a statute or a case interpreting a statute. Write down that information or ask the clerk to do so for you. And get the name of the person who told you.

6. If your request is denied, you have the right to appeal. You may send a letter of appeal, or go to Superior Court. For a sample appeal letter, go to www.modbee.com/sunshine. If you go to court and a judge rules that the agency improperly denied you access, you may be able to recover court and attorney fees.
---------------------------------

Sample letter: how to appeal if your public record request has been denied
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690453c.html
Last Updated: March 12, 2006, 05:34:56 AM PST

Date
Name and Title (of the official with custody of the records) Name of Agency Address

RE: Public Records Act Request

Dear ________________,

Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.) and the California Constitution, as amended by passage of Prop 59 on November 3, 2004, I am writing to request a copy of the following records, which I understand to be in the possession of your agency:

(Describe the record(s) as precisely as possible, including the designation of any forms or
reports with titles, the date or dates if relevant, the author and addressee if the item is a letter or memo, etc. If the record is referred to in another document or published report and it will help to attach a copy of that reference, do so.)

I ask for a determination on this request within 10 days of your receipt of it, and an even earlier reply if you can make that determination without having to review the record(s) in question.

(Use the following if applicable:)

I would not ordinarily trouble you with this written request, but when I first made it informally I was told by __________________ that your agency considers the information to be exempt from disclosure because ________________________________. I respectfully suggest that this position, if I understand it correctly, is wrong. It is wrong because

___________________________________________________________________________.

If you determine that any or all or the information is exempt from disclosure, I ask that you reconsider that determination in view of Prop 59, which has amended the state Constitution to require that all exemptions be "narrowly construed." Prop 59 may modify or overturn authorities on which you have relied in the past.

If you nonetheless determine that the requested records are subject to a still-valid exemption, I would further request that: (1) you exercise your discretion to disclose some or all of the records notwithstanding the exemption; and (2) that, with respect to records containing both exempt and non-exempt content, you redact the exempt content and disclose the rest.

Finally, should you deny part or all of this request, you are required to provide a written response describing the legal authority or authorities on which you rely. Please also address the question whether Prop 59 requires disclosure even though authorities predating Prop 59 may appear to support your exemption claim.

If I can provide any clarification that will help expedite your attention to this request, please contact me at (provide phone or fax number, pager number, etc.). I ask that you notify me of any duplication costs exceeding $xx so that I may decide which records I want copied.

(Use the following as applicable:)

I am sending a copy of this letter to your legal advisor to help encourage a speedy determination, and I would likewise be happy to discuss my request with (him/her) at any time.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,
---------------------------------

Merced woman guards public projects process
Lawsuits force the county, UC to toe the legal line

By ADAM ASHTON
BEE STAFF WRITER
Modesto Bee -- March 13, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html

For some in Merced County, Lydia Miller's name prompts the same reaction: Why is she suing me now?

Miller, the county's foremost environmentalist, positions herself at the front of often impassioned debates on the spread of subdivisions and the footprint of the University of California at Merced.

She crafts her arguments using the state's Public Records Act to ensure local governments adhere to laws protecting the environment.

"Public process is the only tool in ensuring integrity of a project," said Miller, 48, who leads the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center. "When the process is compromised, then the project is compromised. We see very few projects that follow good process."

One of the biggest of 19 lawsuits Miller's group has filed against local agencies forced Merced County to turn over thousands of pages of documents regarding its interactions with the University of California before the system placed its newest campus there.

Miller believed the county was treating the campus as if it were a done deal and speeding through the approval process.

That case, which ended in 2002 with a judge's order to open the records, provided the groundwork for a lawsuit Miller filed in late 2004 seeking to halt plans on an 11,600-home community that would border the campus.

Her opponent in the three-year push to open the county's UC records was Greg Wellman, the county's former chief executive who now works as Atwater's city manager.

He said Miller had a right to most of the information she requested, even if it gave him headaches at the time.

"I think a large amount of what she's asking for is just a reflection of our democratic process," he said. "I might personally feel some of the issues raised are not consequential, but those are personal feelings. She has a right to public information — pure and simple."

Back then, though, Wellman said handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit.

"You don't want to give up your defense strategy resulting in a higher award or any other such thing," he said.

Bruce Owdom, Miller's lawyer on the open records lawsuit, said agencies sometimes are too quick to deny a request like hers, giving an impression that a "culture of secrecy" prevails in their offices.

"They sometimes have an attitude like it's our domain here and the public doesn't have a right to these things," he said.

Miller says that attitude prevails in many government offices. She said the county should start keeping running files on controversial projects so people could drop by and check out a proposal's progress.

Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said that recommendation might run afoul of privacy protections for some applicants.

He also said the county shouldn't hand over information while it's being sued unless it's ordered to do so. The Public Records Act has an exemption for documents under litigation.

"There's client-privileged information that may help in regards to giving guidance to a project that shouldn't be part of a public document that anyone could see," he said.

Nonetheless, he said, the public should be able to see all the information that leads to supervisors' decisions.

Miller says the information her group obtains helps it ensure agencies follow through on mitigation plans, and support projects with sufficient resources.

Her group recently filed a public records request with Livingston and Merced County seeking information about plans for a sewer line that would make it easier for a developer to build a subdivision outside the city limit.

The City Council approved Ranchwood Homes' pitch to lay the sewer line in late 2004, but Miller argues the county would have had to sign off on it because it's in unincorporated land. She's waiting for the documents.

"We participate in the process," she said. "We can't sue on emotion; the only thing we can sue on is to make sure the process was adhered to rightly."
---------------------------

Judge rules against county
Merced Sun-Star – July 23, 2002
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/281651491740333.shtml

That was the good news. The bad news came five months later, when Merced County Superior Court Judge William Ivey ruled on attorney’s fees and costs. Attorney for the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Bruce Owdom, spent $42,000 on the case. Judge Ivey, forced to rule in favor of the Center on the merits of the case, slammed the plaintiff and its attorney on costs and fees to which they were entitled, as if to say to the Merced public and the bar: We may give the case, but you will not get costs and fees in Merced County.

And that has been largely true.
--------------------------

Records suit costs county $22,000
Court orders reimbursement for group’s court costs
By Cheri Carlson
Merced Sun-Star – Nov. 25, 2002

“Everybody thinks that we make money from the lawsuit. We don’t. – Lydia Miller, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center

Two local environmental groups that successfully sued Merced County earlier this year have won more than their right to view public records. In fact, they won nearly $22,000.

Superior Court Judge William T. Ivey on Friday awarded the groups their court costs, which must be paid for by the county.

Neither of the organizations – the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water – nor the individuals involved in the suit – Lydia Miller and Steve Burke – will actually see the money. It will go straight to their attorney, Bruce Owdom.

Owdom said Friday that when he took the public records case it was on a full contingency basis, which means if they lost, his firm wouldn’t get paid.

But they won, and now Merced County – and taxpayers – must foot the bill.

Not the entire bill, however.

Owdom said he was disappointed that the court decided to award only about half the amount he had requested.

He had sought about $42,000 in fees, but the judged awarded $21,796 instead, stating that the issues involved were not complex. He added that the $42,000 figure was based on the 222 hours he said his firm worked on the case.

Miller, Burke and their organizations filed a lawsuit in May claiming the county had repeatedly ignored or denied requests for information related to the University of California, Merced.

Mille said at the time that the information the groups had requested was “a pretty substantial file” of information that they felt the community needed to review, and the county had said, “No, we’re not giving it to you.”

The county argued that some of the requests were denied because the documents had already been provided. Other requests, according to the county, were vague and the requesting parties couldn’t clarify them.

In June, Ivey ruled in favor of the environmental groups and ordered the county to respond to the requests and to produce any of the public records that the county may have.

Owdon said Friday that since Ivey issued that order, the county has complied and produced more than 100 separately identified documents that hadn’t previously been made available to his clients.

Awarding court costs is necessary, according to Owdom, so public interest groups can find lawyers who’ll take these types of cases.

“Attorneys are only willing to take these cases if they have some assurance of getting fees awarded,” he said. “Nonprofit (groups) can’t afford to pay attorneys’ fees.”

Dennis Myers, the county’s attorney, said Friday that the judge’s order for the county to pay the environmental groups’ court costs adhered to state law.

Court costs and reasonable attorney fees are awarded to the plaintiff if they prevail in litigation regarding public record compliance, according to California code. The fees are paid by the public agency.

The code also states that if the court finds that the plaintiff’s case “is clearly frivolous,” it should award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the public agency.

According to Myers, which account within the county’s funds will provide the money has not been decided since more than one department was involved.

Miller said Friday that she and Burke took their case to court “on behalf of the public,” and one of the benefits is that the court awarded them their attorney’s fees.

“Everybody thinks that we make money from the lawsuit,” she said. “We don’t.”
------------------------------

Central Valley Shines
With a few exceptions, open records provided in informal Bee survey

By ADAM ASHTON
BEE STAFF WRITER
Modesto Bee -- March 13, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926477p-12693365c.html

… Merced County, which charged 10 cents for copies of financial disclosure forms, charged the highest fee in the area for copies of other documents. It wanted 50 cents apace, a sum it set in 1990 to recoup some processing costs.

Three agencies — Livingston's building department, Manteca's building department and Tuolumne County's community development department — wanted to charge research fees for requests they deemed burdensome.

Bee representatives did not pay those fees; they reduced their requests from broad attempts to gain several months' worth of inspections to queries for a handful of specific documents.

Outside records firm a wrinkle

The Public Records Act says agencies cannot charge fees for researching or processing, unless the agency has to create a document to meet the request.

Nathan Barankin, spokesman for the state Attorney General's office, said that under the act, an agency may charge a retrieval or research fee for staff time on nonelectronic documents only if the public entity contracts with a private company to keep the records. The fees come through the company's bill.

Livingston's building department is run by a private company and could meet that exception.

City Manager Richard Warne said the department would charge extra fees only for requests that take several hours of staff time.

Its research fee was $46 an hour, city Building Official Rex Wyatt told a reporter.

"If it's a document off the shelf, we just give it to people. If it involves several hours of research, we might charge, but we haven't run into that problem," Warne said …

Bruce Owdom, a Fresno attorney who has worked for The Fresno Bee, said the amount of work that could go into satisfying a public records request is not a sufficient excuse not to comply with the law, or to charge fees beyond what the Public Records Act allows.

"They might say some other department has those records and we don't have those records. Or it would be too difficult to compile," he said. "My recollection is that there's not an exception to the Public Records Act for that type of situation."

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said research fees violate the Public Records Act.

"In general, you can't be charged for the time, the effort or the money of conducting a search that responds to an individual's request — not for the search time, not for the consultation with lawyers, not for any discussions about the request.

"None of that represents the cost that may be passed on to the requester," Scheer said.
---------------------------

Notes:

3-12-06
Modesto Bee
Now open to the public...Lorena Anderson
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690527c.html
Sunshine Week...Your right to know. Anyone can request public records any time, without providing a reason or even identification, and it is up to the government to explain why a document can't be released.Assemblyman Bill Bagley, who represented Marin and Sonoma counties from 1961 to 1974 and wrote the California Public Records Act, said he intended the government to operate in an "atmosphere of openness." ...agencies must prove that withholding a document has more public benefit than releasing it; nothing in the act is to be construed as preventing an agency from releasing records.

Message from Bee Editor and Senior Vice President Mark S. Vasche
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690450c.html
Over the course of the week, we’ll be shining a light on open government, with stories, editorials and columns designed to help you understand the importance of public access to government proceedings and records – and the growing attempts to limit that access. Why? Because a government that ceases to be open and accessible to its citizens ceases to be a government of, by and for the people.

Government watchdog follows the money trail...Adam Ashton
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690518c.html
Documents let him verify what officials are saying

Paper Trails...
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690451c.html
Here are some records to which people have access

Tips on making a request for a public document...
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690452c.html
Preparing your request... At the agency... Overcoming obstacles...
1. You do not have to prove or even state a "need to know" to justify access.
2. You don't need to explain why you want the record.
3. Your request need not be in writing.
4. You don't need to identify yourself, with a few exceptions. The law requires identification only when you seek information about pesticides or the addresses of people arrested or crime victims.
5. You have the right to inspect records, but the agency need not compile lists or write reports. For instance, the county assessor's office could produce records of home sales on your block but would not be required to compute the median sales prices or otherwise analyze the data for you.
6. You may be charged a fee for copying records, but not for looking at them.

Sample letter: how to appeal if your public record request has been denied...
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690453c.html

3-13-06
Modesto Bee
Merced woman guards public projects process...Adam Ashton
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html
For some in Merced County, Lydia Miller's name prompts the same reaction: Why is she suing me now? Miller, the county's foremost environmentalist, positions herself at the front of often impassioned debates on the spread of subdivisions and the footprint of the University of California at Merced. She crafts her arguments using the state's Public Records Act to ensure local governments adhere to laws protecting the environment. "Public process is the only tool in ensuring integrity of a project," said Miller who leads the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center. "When the process is compromised, then the project is compromised. Greg Wellman, the county's former chief executive who now works as Atwater's city manager...Back then, though, handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit. Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion..."There's client-privileged information that may help in regards to giving guidance to a project that shouldn't be part of a public document that anyone could see,"...Nonetheless, he said, the public should be able to see all the information that leads to supervisors' decisions. "We participate in the process," Miller said. "We can't sue on emotion; the only thing we can sue on is to make sure the process was adhered to rightly."

Central Valley Shines...Adam Ashton
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926477p-12693365c.html
Bee survey-The Bee informally assessed compliance with open government laws at 17 cities and four counties over the past two weeks by visiting government offices and asking forbasic rec-ords — financial disclosure forms for officials,executive contracts, building permits and restaurant inspections. Most agencies, such as the cities of Modesto, Sonora and Ceres, had the information on hand and disclosed it immediately. Others, such as Riverbank, Turlock and Merced County, wanted written requests. Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, called the level of compliance documented by The Bee "unusual." Californians Aware, another open government advocacy group, is scheduled to release an audit Tuesday indicating that more than half of the state agencies it checked failed to comply with the Public Records Act. Bruce Owdom, a Fresno attorney who has worked for The Fresno Bee, said the amount of work that could go into satisfying a public records request is not a sufficient excuse not to comply with the law, or to charge fees beyond what the Public Records Act allows. Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said research fees violate the Public Records Act.

| »

Merced County Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event

Submitted: Mar 10, 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and other members of the concerned public always wondered how developers in Merced County rode roughshod over local, state and federal environmental laws, regulations, agencies and its own public. But, rarely have they been granted the insight provided by this telephone message, recorded on Feb. 3, 2006.

Badlands has blocked out the last two numbers of the telephones the developer left for return calls from the supervisor he thought he'd called as a courtesy to the developer.

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

End of message…to erase this message press 7, to save it press 9, to hear more options press 0. To replay this message press 4, to get envelope information about this message press 5. To…. Sent February 3rd, at 11:48 am from phone number 704-13** duration 1 minute 14 seconds. To erase this message press 7. To save it press 9. This message will be saved for 21 days. End of messages.

On Feb. 9, City of Livingston Mayor Brandon Friesen wrote San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and members of the public, accusing them of “conducting a documented pursuit and vendetta against Ranchwood Homes.” The mayor said public questions raised and public requests for documentation on this project have "placed our City in the middle of mud slinging and we will not stand for it.”

· The 42-inch sewer trunk line from the City of Livingston: Mr. Hostetler, who does business as Ranchwood Homes, is referring to a mile-long sewer trunk line he built from the corner of the Livingston wastewater treatment plant to a few yards away from where he plans to build a subdivision. The trunk line is built entirely outside the jurisdiction of the City of Livingston in land under county jurisdiction. On Feb. 16, when the project was still incomplete, County Counsel Ruben Castillo wrote a letter to the city attorney of Livingston instructing him in the number of laws the city had broken by "approving" this project beyond its jurisdiction. However, by Feb. 28, the project was completed and the 42-inch, mile-long sewer pipeline was covered over. The public has been granted access to neither city, county nor LAFCO files on this project, despite requests to county CEO Dee Tatum, county Counsel Ruben Castillo, county Director of Planning and Economic Development Robert Lewis, Local Agency Formation Commission Director John LeVan, and the county Board of Supervisors. A request for a meeting with CEO Tatum and department heads has also gone unanswered. The County has taken no action.

· 1,000 acres in North Merced: Ranchwood cleared approximately 1,000 acres of pasture bounded by G Street, La Paloma, Merced Country Club and Old Lake Road, north of Merced. The field crossed Fahrens Creek. Ranchwood put in field roads crossing the creek at two locations, tore out all vegetation along the creek and pushed freshly disked dirt into the stream. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal Endangered Species and the Clean Water Act. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

· 300 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood disked and deep-ripped a portion of a 300-acre field on the corner of White Rock and Le Grand roads in county jurisdiction. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal ESA and CWA. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

· 1,100 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood deep-ripped, leveled and disked approximately 1,100 acres of seasonal pasture land on the SE intersection of Buchanan Hollow and White Rock roads, also near Le Grand. The pastures contained small streams, wetlands, vernal pools and federal and state protected species. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

These are significant conversions of land. Merced County should have directed Ranchwood to do proper environmental review before proceeding. Instead Merced County turned a blind eye to these significant conversions.

State and federal agencies were notified and are expected to uphold regulatory compliance on these projects.

· Franklin County Sewer District: Ranchwood excavated two additional percolation ponds in a field west of Santa Fe Road north of Highway 59 to service a subdivision Ranchwood is building in the Franklin-Beachwood area. The public has requested documentation on this project.

· Land swaps in Planada:

On April 22, 2003, J&J Family Trust sold a parcel of approximately 20 acres on Gerard Road to the Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing for $300,000 (approximating from the tax assessment of 1 percent).

On October 10, 2003, CVCAH sold the parcel to the Merced County Housing Authority for $300,000 (according to what MCHA official Nick Benjamin told members of the Planada public).

On Dec. 2, 2004, a complex land swap took place in Planada.

A. MCHA sold the same parcel (APN# 053-145-024) to the Pacific Holt Corp. for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).

B. A.K. Karmangar, a Planada farmer, sells two parcels (approximately 20 acres) to the MCHA for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).

C. Pacific Holt sells parcel APN# 053-145-024 to Mr. And Mrs. D. Tatum (CEO Merced County) for $269,500.00 (according to the tax assessment). This is apparently a savings of $280,500.00 to the Tatums for a piece of property Pacific Holt bought the same day for approximately twice as much as they sold it to the Tatums.

On Sept. 29, 2005, Hostetler Investment, LLC filed a memorandum of right of option to Pacific Holt Corp to purchase 50 percent of any or all Wallace and Karmangar property actually acquired by Hostetler, and at the actual gross per-acre price. “For instance, if, as expected, Hostetler actually acquires the entirety of the Karmangar Property containing 410+/- gross acres, the Option would apply to 205 +/- acres. The purchase price for both the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property shall be the actual gross per acre price paid by Hostetler to purchase the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property which shall be payable in cash on or before the close of escrow.”

On Dec. 23, 2005, a new entity, Pacific Holt Residential Communities, filed for a county General Plan Amendment for residential construction as the owner of 1,390 acres to be added to the Planada SUDP and to be known as the Village of Geneva at Planada. The acreage is composed of Karmangar and Wallace contiguous parcels.

Pacific Holt Residential Communities consists of Hostetler Investments LLC, Pacific Holt Corp., Premiere Partners III of Illinois, Bear Creek Ranch Inc. and local land holders, Bud Wallace, Inc, Opie and Elizabeth Wallace, Partners, and Hare &Sessions Development, Seattle WA.

The County approved the 2003 Planada Community Plan Update to the Merced County General Plan. The PHR Communities property lies outside of the Planada SUDP except for a 20-acre parcel. The Planada Community Plan has been legally challenged and the case is now in state appellate court.

This is by no means all the Ranchwood Homes projects, even in Merced County alone. It’s just a few examples the public has been able to collect from the east side of the county.

Could county CEO, Dee Tatum, fill in the public (after he’s explained it to Supervisor Crookham) on leapfrog, chaotic, unplanned development – the low, cowboy standards of Merced County planning with an out-dated General Plan, speculation-driven development and a new, incompetent planning director? Why does the County routinely disregards proper public process, the protection of public resources? Why has it shown neither the political will nor the ability to plan coherently in the midst of a speculative real estate boom that began before UC Merced was a “done deal”?

Would CEO Tatum explain why he hired a planning director from Nevada who is incompetent in California environmental law or public processes like the Public Records Act?

Could Supervisor Kathleen Crookham illuminate the public on her special relationship with Ranchwood Homes? Would Supervisor Jerry O’Banion of Los Banos explain how Ranchwood Homes does business, since O’Banion knows all things that occur on the west-side turf he shares with Ranchwood?

The Merced County public should ask how county government can do anything but build a reputation as the most corrupt local land-use authority in the state when the top Democrat opponent of environmental law and regulation in the House of Representatives and one of the key fixers behind UC Merced, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is welcome to sit on the third floor of the county administration building.

The University of California, aided by Cardoza, former Rep.Gary Condit, Blue Dog-Ceres, the Condit children, Gov.Gray Davis and compliant state resource agency heads, railroaded (the term “fast-tracked” was substituted) UC Merced through environmental law, regulation and took local land-use authority, set the cowboy standards for development in Merced County. UC also acquainted local land-use jurisdictions with the magic of legal indemnification against legal challenges brought to protect Merced County natural resources, air, water, agricultural land, infrastructure, public health and safety, and endangered species as well as protecting proper public process.

Bill Hatch

| »

Support the ESA: Call senators Feinstein and Boxer today

Submitted: Mar 09, 2006

This is a pass-along post from the national Endangered Species Coalition urging you to call your U.S. Senator today to oppose the gutting of the ESA by legislation shamefully cooked up in the two adjoining districts of representatives RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

Talk to your senators' staff today. Numbers below.

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

National Endangered Species Act Call-in Day: Thursday, March 9th

Please Call Your Senators Today!

We need your help to make sure the Senate supports the Endangered Species Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee may take action on an Endangered Species Act bill in the next few weeks. Please call your Senators today!

For over thirty years, the Endangered Species Act has been a safety net for wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction. It has been successful in preventing the extinction of the American Bald Eagle, the gray wolf, the Pacific salmon and many other species.

However, the Endangered Species Act is under threat from special interests, and the politicians they give money to. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would significantly weaken protections for endangered species and habitat. It is now up to the U.S. Senate to save the Endangered Species Act!

It is critically important that your Senators hear from their constituents that Americans support the Endangered Species Act. Please join the Endangered Species Coalition, other organizations and thousands of Americans across the country by calling your Senators on Thursday, March 9th. Please ask your friends, relatives and colleagues to join you in calling. It only takes about 3 minutes of your time, but the results could last a lifetime.

Thank you for your help in ensuring the Endangered Species Act continues to protect our nation’s most imperiled fish, plants and wildlife so that future generations are able to enjoy their beauty!

Sincerely,

The staff of the Endangered Species Coalition
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ACTION: On Thursday, March 9th , call your Senators in support of a strong Endangered Species Act and urge them to oppose any efforts to change the Act.

PHONE NUMBERS FOR CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATORS

Sen. Barbara Boxer: (202) 224-3553
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (202) 224-3841
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BACKGROUND:

The House of Representatives passed a bill in September of 2005 that would significantly weaken protections for endangered species and habitat. If Representative Pombo’s bill (HR 3824) becomes law, it would eliminate habitat protection, abandon the commitment to recovering species on the brink of extinction, repeal protections against hazardous pesticides, and politicize the scientific decision-making process. In addition, it would set up an unprecedented entitlement program that would require the federal government to use taxpayers dollars to pay developers for complying with the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition against killing or injuring endangered species.

Pombo's top Democrat supporter and first co-author is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. Calls from Pombo and Cardoza districts should carry special weight. - Bill

It is now up to the Senate to save the Endangered Species Act. Senators need to stand up and support the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act is a successful law. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 99% of species given the Act’s protection are still with us today; their extinction has been prevented. In addition, the American public supports the Endangered Species Act. A poll by Decision Research illustrated that 86% of American voters support the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act is a safety net for wildlife, plants and fish that are on the brink of extinction. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the environment and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home.

For more information, visit the Endangered Species Coalition's webpage.

| »

Merced Wal-Mart distribution center

Submitted: Mar 08, 2006

Rev. Jesse Jackson used to describe development in rural US counties: "First you get your prison, then you get your WalMart."

In Merced, first we got UC, now we'll probably get a 1.1-million square foot Wal-Mart distribution center at the UC Merced off-ramp. This will set a new basement for county wages and Local Business is wildly enthusiastic about it. The representative of the Alia Corp. and the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, two of the three authors of a recent Sun-Star guest commentary accused "outside organizers" of obstructing the project, claimed to represent best the interests of the local community. Alia actually represents two global corporations, McDonalds and Chevron, while numerous national and international corporations have memberships in the GMCC, including Wal-Mart.

Rebecca Solnit describes how Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton, is spending some of the corporation's unpaid wages and benefits.

The Wal-Mart Biennale
By Rebecca Solnit
TomDispatch.com -- Feb. 16, 2006

It isn't that, when Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton purchased Asher B. Durand's 1849 painting Kindred Spirits last year, she got the state of Arkansas to pass legislation specifically to save her taxes -- in this case, about $3 million on a purchase price of $35 million. It isn't that the world's second richest woman and ninth richest person (according to a Forbes magazine 2005 estimate) scooped the painting out from under the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had banded together to try to keep it in a public collection when the New York Public Library decided to sell it off. It isn't that Walton will eventually stick this talisman of New England cultural life and a lot of other old American paintings in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Walton family museum she's building in Bentonville, Arkansas, the site of Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters -- after all people in the middle of the country should get to see some good art too. It might not even be, as Wal-MartWatch.com points out, that the price of the painting equals what the state of Arkansas spends every two years providing for Wal-Mart's 3,971 employees on public assistance; or that the average Wal-Mart cashier makes $7.92 an hour and, since Wal Mart likes to keep people on less than full-time schedules, works only 29 hours a week for an annual income of $11,948--so a Wal-Mart cashier would have to work a little under 3,000 years to earn the price of the painting without taking any salary out for food, housing, or other expenses (and a few hundred more years to pay the taxes, if the state legislature didn't exempt our semi-immortal worker).

The trouble lies in what the painting means and what Alice Walton and her $18 billion mean. Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways. The superb Rockefeller folk art collections in several American museums don't include paintings of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of miners in Colorado, carried out by Rockefeller goons, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles doesn't say a thing about oil. But something about Wal-Mart and Kindred Spirits is more peculiar than all the robber barons and their chapels, galleries, and collections ever were, perhaps because, more than most works of art, Durand's painting is a touchstone for a set of American ideals that Wal-Mart has been savaging.

It may be true that, in an era when oil companies regularly take out advertisements proclaiming their commitment to environmentalism, halting global warming, promoting petroleum alternatives, and conservation measures, while many of them also fund arguments against climate change's very existence, nothing is too contrary to embrace. But Kindred Spirits is older, more idealistic, and more openly at odds with this age than most hostages to multinational image-making.

Kindred Spirits portrays Durand's friend, the great American landscape painter Thomas Cole, with his friend, the poet and editor William Cullen Bryant. The two stand on a projecting rock above a cataract in the Catskills, bathed like all the trees and air around them in golden light. The painting is about friendship freely given, including a sense of friendship, even passion, for the American landscape itself. In the work of Cole, Durand, and Bryant, as in the writing of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, you can see an emerging belief that the love of nature, beauty, truth, and freedom are naturally allied, a romantic vision that still lingers as one of the most idealistic versions of what it might mean to be an American.

Cole was almost the first American painter to see the possibilities in American landscapes, to see that meaning could grow rather than lessen in a place not yet full of ruins and historical associations, and so he became an advocate for wilderness nearly half a century before California rhapsodist and eventual Sierra Club cofounder John Muir took up the calling. Bryant had gained a reputation as a poet before he became editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post and thereby a pivotal figure in the culture of the day. He defended a group of striking tailors in 1836, long before there was a union movement, and was ever after a champion of freedom and human rights, turning his newspaper into an antislavery mouthpiece and eventually becoming a founder of the Republican Party (back when that was the more progressive and less beholden of the two parties). He was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln and of the projects that resulted in New York's Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum -- of a democratic urban culture that believed in the uplifting power of nature and of free access. Maybe the mutation of the Republican Party from Bryant's to Walton's time is measure enough of American weirdness; or maybe the details matter, of what the painting is and what Wal-Mart and its heiress are.

Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the wealthy dry-goods merchant Jonathan Sturges as a gift for Bryant in commemoration of his beautiful eulogy for Cole, who died suddenly in 1848. Bryant left it to his daughter Julia, who gave it in 1904 to what became the New York Public Library. It was never a commodity exchanged between strangers until the Library, claiming financial need, put it and other works of art up for sale. So now a portrait of antislavery and wilderness advocates belongs to a woman whose profits came from degrading working conditions in the U.S. and abroad and from ravaging the North American landscape.

Maybe the problem is that the Crystal Bridges museum seems like a false front for Wal-Mart, a made-in-America handicrafted artifact of idealism for a corporation that is none of the above. The museum will, as such institutions do, attempt to associate the Wal-Mart billionaires with high culture, American history, beautifully crafted objects -- a host of ideals and pleasures a long way from what you find inside the blank, slabby box of a Wal-Mart. One of the privileges of wealth is buying yourself out of the situation you help to make, so that the wealthy, who advocate for deregulation, install water purifiers and stock up on cases of Perrier, or advocate for small government and then hire their own security forces and educators.

Walton, it seems safe to assume, lives surrounded by nicer objects, likely made under nicer conditions, than she sells the rest of us. I have always believed that museums love artists the way taxidermists love deer. Perhaps Alice Walton is, in some sense, stuffing and mounting what is best about American culture -- best and fading. Perhaps Crystal Bridges will become one of the places we can go to revisit the long history that precedes industrialization and globalization, when creation and execution were not so savagely sundered, when you might know the maker of your everyday goods, and making was a skilled and meaningful act. One of the pleasures of most visual art is exactly that linkage between mind and hand, lost elsewhere as acts of making are divided among many and broken down into multiple repetitive tasks.

Perhaps she could build us the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff Locally by Hand for People They Knew or perhaps that's what Crystal Bridges, along with the rest of such institutions, will become. Or Walton could just plan to open the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff at some more distant date, though less than half of what's in Wal-Mart, sources inform me, is still actually made here -- for now. The world's richest woman, however, seems more interested in archaic images of America than in the artisanry behind them.

Walton has already scooped up a portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale and paintings by Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper for her museum. That museum, reports say, will feature many, many nineteenth-century portraits of Native Americans -- but it would be hard to see her as a champion of the indigenous history of the Americas. The Wal-Mart that opened last November in Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, is built so close to the Aztec's Pyramid of the Sun that many consider the site desecrated. The Wal-Mart parking lot actually eradicated the site of a smaller temple. "This is the flag of conquest by global interests, the symbol of the destruction of our culture," said a local schoolteacher. Thanks to free-trade measures like NAFTA, Wal-Mart has become Mexico's biggest retailer and private-sector employer.

Imagine if Walton were more like Sturges, supporting the art of her time. Imagine if she were supporting artists who actually had something to say about Wal-Mart and America (and Mexico, and China). Imagine if, in the mode of the Venice Biennale or the Sao Paolo Biennale, there was a Wal-Mart biennale. After all, Wal-Mart is itself China's seventh-largest trading partner, ahead of Germany and Russia and Italy; if it were a nation, it would be the world's nineteenth biggest economy. If it's on the same scale as those countries, why shouldn't it have its own contemporary art shows? But what would the Wal-Mart nation and its artists look like?

Rather than the open, luminous, intelligent architecture Moshe Safde will probably bestow on Bentonville, Arkansas, imagine a shuttered Wal-Mart big box (of which there are so many, often shut down simply to stop employees from unionizing) turned into a MOCA, a museum of contemporary art, or better yet a MOCWA, a Museum of Contemporary Wal-Mart Art. Or Wal-Art. After all, Los Angeles's MOCA was originally sited in a defunct warehouse. You could set the artists free to make art entirely out of materials available at Wal-Mart, or to make art about the global politics of Wal-Mart in our time -- poverty, consumerism, sprawl, racism, gender discrimination, exploitation of undocumented workers.

Imagine a contemporary artist, maybe with Adobe Photoshop, reworking Kindred Spirits again and again. Imagine that Cole and Bryant are, this time, standing not on a rocky outcropping but in, say, one of the puzzle and art-supply aisles of a Wal-Mart somewhere in the Catskills, dazed and depressed. Or imagine instead that it's some sweatshop workers, a little hunched and hungry, on that magnificent perch amid the foliage and the golden light, invited at last into some sense of democratic community. Imagine paintings of Edward Hopper's old downtowns, boarded up because all the sad and lonely people are shopping at Wal-Mart and even having their coffee and hot dogs there. Imagine video-portraits of the people who actually make the stuff you can buy at Wal-Mart, or of the African-American truck-drivers suing the corporation for racism or of the women who are lead plaintiffs in the nation's largest class-action suit for discrimination. Against Wal-Mart, naturally.

Imagine if Alice Walton decided to follow the route of Target with architect Michael Graves and commissioned some cutting-edge contemporary art about these issues: videos and DVDs you could buy, prints for your walls, performance art in the aisles, art that maybe even her workers could afford. Imagine if Wal-Mart would acknowledge what Wal-Mart is rather than turning hallowed American art into a fig leaf to paste over naked greed and raw exploitation. But really, it's up to the rest of us to make the Museum of Wal-Mart, one way or another, in our heads, on our websites, or in our reading of everyday life everywhere.

Rebecca Solnit's Tomdispatch-generated Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities is out in a new and expanded edition. Her other recent books include A Field Guide to Getting Lost and, with Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers.

Copyright 2005 Rebecca Solnit

| »

Cardoza's boss taken to task

Submitted: Mar 01, 2006

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is the principle co-author of the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act, whose No. 1 rightwing Republican promoter is Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. The "D" often put after Cardoza's name stands for Democrat, which makes him the symbol of bipartisan unity and "balance" among the ESA gutters. It's obvious why Pombo is in it: it's strictly a matter of his family's real estate business. Although Cardoza's family owns and sells some land, the Shrimp Slayer is in it mainly for UC Merced and developers that would make Merced as large, chaotic, crime-filled and polluted as Fresno. Cardoza carries the local rightwing agenda so well they can't find anything wrong with him. He's exactly their kind of Democrat, a good little functionary for whoever has the money to pay for the tune.

People look at the Pomboza and wonder how any collection of communities could be dumb enough to elect such an unlovely pair to Congress. There must be something in the water. Or is it the air?

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

Rep. Pombo’s bill an ‘act’ that betrays ecology of the earth
by David James Duncan

March 1, 2006

I am a lifelong fisherman. I became one as a boy out of love for salmon, and also out of love for the fact that Jesus and many of his disciples were fishermen. I feel I owe it to Peter, James and John to protect our increasingly endangered line of work.

I mention this because U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., has pushed a bill through Congress that would gut the Endangered Species Act, a globally admired law that has kept several thousand ark-loads of plants and animals---including wild salmon, sea otters, lynx, eagles, bighorn sheep, condors---from being driven to extinction. If Pombo’s bill becomes law, endangered species will lose to developers, the extinction of wild salmon will in many places be guaranteed, and the ancient trade of Peter, James and John will vanish with the salmon.

At the time I learned of the Pombo bill I was studying recent salmon and river restoration projects in the Pacific Northwest. The contrast is stunning! When even a few tax dollars are spent on restoring life instead squandering it, Americans go bananas in wonderfully altruistic ways. When Washington State was offered a federal grant of just $13 million for wild salmon restoration, the people and businesses of that state answered with over $30 million and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours of their own. Restoring even 10 yards of ruined riverbank is an arduous undertaking. In five years Washingtonians enhanced some 1,755 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. Some 200,000 native trees have been planted to cool streams and shade out invasive plants. Fiftyfour million salmon have been released into state streams. These united efforts are a labor of love that costs U.S. taxpayers nothing. Tens of thousands of the hero-hours have been logged by school children, whose sole motivation is their yearning to keep salmon alive in our world with them.
What a stick in the eyeball to turn from this to Pombo’s so-called “Endangered Species Recovery Act.” What this Act would really do is terminate America’s long-standing commitment to endangered species by removing the link between wild creatures and their habitat---as if wild animals and birds can live in a bulldozed vacuum. The Act’s veiled purpose is to force Americans to pay developers simply to obey conservation laws the rest of us gladly honor. To accomplish that end, it will prostitute by law the science that protects endangered and threatened species. Getting back to the apostle fishermen, Pombo’s Act will also betray the teachings of the Bible, which tells us that “the Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof” (Psalms) and that humans are mere “tenants” (Leviticus) placed here as “caretakers” (Genesis), to rule not as the greed-driven would have it, but “on earth as it is in heaven,” as the Father who created and blessed all forms of life would have it.

There are a few among us who still believe in “infinite exploitable resources” despite the finiteness of Earth. There are a few who still believe in the Easter Bunny. The fact remains that industrial civilization has long been engaged in a war not against foreign enemies, but against the life support systems of our world. The 21st will be the century of the Great Cease-Fire in this war, or it will be a century of the kind of environmental terror, havoc and dearth we are now repeatedly witnessing not just in foreign lands, but right here in America. The thousands of businesses recently destroyed by hurricanes, floods, wars and social chaos directly related to fossil fuel overdependence are dire proof that the planet’s life support systems and our economic activites are directly related. The emissions of my car in seemingly clean-skied Montana merge with a carbon dioxide cloud that encircles the globe, contributing to superheated oceans, storms of record-breaking force, the annihilation of commerce, the loss of biological diversity, and increased human suffering. Every nonsustainable act we commit and every shortsighted policy we sign into law now threatens to eliminate long-term business profits.

It’s hard to imagine a more shortsighted policy than Pombo’s “Endangered Species Recovery Act.” This bill is indeed an act. While sucking like a leech at the integrity of the word “recovery,” it in fact betrays endangered plants and wildlife and erodes biological, religious and economic integrity by attacking the life support systems and truth-telling that make life and commerce possible.
Please ask Senator Burns and Baucus to send Pombo’s Act back to whatever dark cave it came from.

David James Duncan is an author, fly fisher and educator. His novels include The River Why and The Brothers K. His forthcoming book is God Laughs & Plays: churchless sermons.
---------------------

Republican Pete McCloskey Talks about GOP Corruption and the Environment
By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Interview

Tuesday 28 February 2006

On February 12, I sat with Pete McCloskey at a public park in Lodi, California, to ask him a few questions about his race against the most anti-environmental congressman in history, Richard Pombo. Mc Closkey is challenging Pombo in the Republican primary, adding a lot of spice to the race, which includes three Democratic challengers as well.

Note: Parts of this interview will appear in an upcoming program on Free Speech TV: SourceCode Episode 3 - Enemies of the Environment. SourceCode teams up with TruthOut to give you the scoop on the biggest threats to preserving our country's public lands, endangered animals, and last wild spaces. Tune into Free Speech TV, Dish Network Ch. 9415, Sunday, March 5, at 9 a.m. and noon, or Monday, March 6, at 8 p.m. or 11p.m. (all times Eastern). Visit sourcecode.freespeech.org to view past shows.

Kelpie Wilson: What was your greatest accomplishment for the environment when you were in Congress in the 1960s and '70s?

Pete McCloskey: I suppose I tried to protect a few porpoises when the tuna fishermen were catching the porpoises in their nets. We tried to reduce the taking of endangered whale species, something my opponent Mr. Pombo now supports the increase of. Japanese whaling is one of the issues between me and him.

KW: What about the Endangered Species Act? What was your role in that?

McCloskey: Well, perhaps the greatest achievement, and we didn't know it at the time, was we held an Earth Day in 1970, and out of that Earth Day a lot of students got involved in saving the environment, or trying to. They listed 12 of my colleagues, the Dirty Dozen, and took out seven of them in the next election. The result was, when Congress convened in January 1971, everyone was now an environmentalist. They had seen a new force, college students, who favored the environment. Out of those next four years, we passed the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Amendments, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Estuary Protection Act, the Coastal Zone Act; all of those came through my subcommittee, Fish and Wildlife, a subcommittee which is now under Pombo's jurisdiction as chairman as the House Resources Committee.

KW: So the ESA is now 34 years old, and even environmentalists agree that some changes are needed. Pombo wrote and passed a reform bill through the House. What is in that bill?

McCloskey: If it passes in the form that Mr. Pombo got it though his committee, it would gut the ESA, and it would gut the whole scheme of protection for endangered and threatened species. Pombo announced that this was nothing new; he wrote a book in 1995 saying that he wanted to abolish the Endangered Species Act. But he didn't just change those provisions that should be changed, and I can give you a few: we would like to make them more farmer friendly; we would like to make them so that, when the government gets an application to develop endangered species land, the government comes in right at the start and says you can do this or you can't do this or you have to mitigate what you're going to do. It's been hard to get though the bureaucracy.

What Pombo wants to do is make it even tougher to get through the bureaucracy. You could use the entire budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service just to pay off developers. He's put a provision in there that a developer who is restricted by endangered species concerns should be compensated for all future loss of profit for any project he might propose to develop that land. Well, he'd bankrupt the agency with that, and I think that's his purpose. Again, it's not just to end the problems of the Act, it's to abolish it or make it ineffective.

KW: Who are the top Republicans in history who've made important contributions to conservation and environmental protection?

McCloskey: The father of Republican environmentalism is Teddy Roosevelt, who, with Gifford Pinchot, started to set aside wilderness and national forests and national parks. Teddy Roosevelt Island has become a national park in the middle of the Potomac River, right across from the Watergate Hotel. Pombo wants to sell Roosevelt Island for development for residential purposes, along with fourteen other parks, one of which is in his own district, in the town of Danville. He believes that the solution to this country's ills is to take all of the public lands and turn them into private development. Well, the beauty that we have here, half of northern California, is in public lands. If you develop it, you lose the priceless privilege of kids out there that are looking for crabs or frogs or something of that kind, growing up near flowing rivers, or swamps, or tidelands, particularly the High Sierra. He's got a bill to put 18 dams in the Immigrant Wilderness. Well if you ever backpacked up there, the idea of one more dam in the High Sierra is crazy, but that's his view, and that's his belief, and that's why I'm running against him.

KW: So what are the Republican values that you represent and how are they different from Richard Pombo's?

McCloskey: In my time, we served with noble and ethical leaders: Gerry Ford, Bob Michael, John Rhodes, men of impeccable honesty. We didn't have anybody locked up for a violation of ethics. Of course we were in the minority, nobody wanted to bribe a Republican; you bribed the Democrats in those days. We had 36 or so congressmen indicted, and all but one of them was a Democrat. But now the Republicans have had the power for the last 13 years, and I believe they've been corrupted: the arrangements between Tom DeLay, the majority leader, and Jack Abramoff. Remember, Tom DeLay jumped Pombo over six other congressmen to make him chairman of the Resources Committee.

The values that we had were, first: honesty and ethics. Second: we wanted a balanced budget; we had fiscal responsibility. Pombo and his allegedly conservative friends have spent us into the greatest deficits in history, trillions of dollars in deficits. That's no Republican value. We were environmentalists of the Teddy Roosevelt theory. We believed in separation of church and state. We believed in the independence of the Supreme Court not being subject to politicians. Now you've got Pombo introducing a bill ... he wants to give Congress the right to overrule Supreme Court decisions on constitutional issues. That's not a Republican value, that's almost radical. That would destroy the checks and balances that the Constitutional forefathers provided.

I suppose the worst value of all is that he wants to give away the public lands for development. My wife and I have spent half our lives, half our adult lives, trying to save special parts of California. I'll give you examples: the Bridgeport Valley over in Modoc County; the Bear Valley up in Calaveras County. We've managed to set those aside in conservation. Most recently, the Hearst Ranch, 82,000 acres. That preserves 15 miles of pristine beach. That's worth doing. It's worth preserving the remaining public lands of California, for your kids and my kids and grandchildren. Pombo wants to destroy all that. He really thinks development is the key to Northern California. You've seen what it's done in Southern California. A lot of us are fugitives from Southern California, trying to preserve the last of Northern California's open space wilderness.

KW: What he's trying to do is kind of like selling off family heirlooms to pay the rent.

McCloskey: I've differed strongly with the Bush administration. It's cut back all of the money for the parks and the forests. They want to put snowmobiles in Yosemite. What they want to do is roll back the environmental progress of 30 years, and it's just wrong. Pombo is their chief operative in doing that, so I'd like to take him out of the Congress and maybe restore a Republican value of the preservation of open space in wilderness. He thinks wilderness is bad because no people are allowed to go into the wilderness. Well, that's baloney, you go into the wilderness like Mohammed went to the mountain or Moses went into the desert. You get inspiration from the wilderness. It is not in this man to preserve and protect wilderness.

KW: Getting back to Republican values, what are the worst examples of Pombo's corruption?

McCloskey: His corruption: Here's a man, Jack Abramoff with his K Street Lobbying project, who has given all this money to Pombo - $54,500. Well, we say, what? Why Pombo? Why would Mr. Abramoff bestow this largess on Pombo? Why would Pombo's staff get these thousand-dollar seats to this skybox? What did he give up for that? We don't know the answer to that yet, the grand jury or the federal attorney hasn't told us, but one example is the Marianas Islands. Abramoff started in the 1990s to try to shield the Marianas Islands from US immigration and labor laws. A man named Willie Tan, who ran this sweatshop operation, brought in young women from all over China and Southeast Asia and the other islands, saying: "Come to America and sign this paper that you'll pay $5,000 for the privilege of going to America." Well, they got them to the Marianas Islands, which is a US trust territory, which can use the label "Made in America" on the clothing it manufactures. Pombo went to the Marianas in 2004, and suddenly gets nine contributions in the thousands of dollars from Marianas businessmen. Now why are they giving Pombo that money? Pombo absolutely refuses to investigate Abramoff and his connection with the Marianas, the sweatshops, the prostitution, and these girls being lured into coming there. Why won't he investigate it? That's what Congressional committees do when sweatshops or fraud are brought to your attention, and a man goes to jail for pleading guilty to bribing congressmen. You investigate that. Pombo won't. That's corruption.

KW: Anything else?

McCloskey: I'll tell you one other thing, that is corruption. When he put in this bill to amend the Endangered Species Act, he not only took out habitat protection but he put a provision in there to exempt farmers from using pesticides for five years in endangered species areas. We wonder: why would a California congressman do that? Then we see suddenly that he's funded in his travel, illegally, by a private foundation. He gets $23,000 from this foundation to travel, which you can't accept. He's a founding governor of the foundation; he can't deny he knew it was a private foundation. But this foundation, who is it funded by? The Japanese Whaling Association, the Association of Fur Traders - these are the guys that import elephant tusks or endangered parrots, and finally, Monsanto gave this foundation $115,000. Well, who benefits from the allowing of the use of pesticides? Monsanto. Whenever you find Pombo doing or not doing something, you chase it down to his contributors.

Big mines: He tried to get hundreds of thousands of acres of mining lands transferred to mining companies for development. Even the Congress couldn't accept that. They took it out of a bill he inserted it in privately. We have about 200,000 of those acres in Northern California; he was going to put it up for sale to mining companies. You follow his contributions: half of those were from big oil, big timber, big railroads, and big mining companies. I'm not going to take any PAC money. I may lose, because I won't get as much money as he does. I'd like to draw the distinction between congressmen who are on the take and whose positions reflect their largest contributors and those who don't. Here is Abramoff going to jail for bribing congressmen and Pombo. You ask him ... "Oh, he never lobbied me." Baloney.

KW: Why won't Pombo debate you?

McCloskey: I don't know that he won't debate me. He always speaks through spokesmen. The spokesman says: We don't want to debate McCloskey; he's way back in the 70s. Those values of his, about honesty and not being controlled by lobbyists, that's the seventies, and he's unworthy to debate. Well, if you're running for the Great Debating Society of United States, the United States Congress, I think you would want to debate your opponent. I always did. I served in the House 15 years and when someone ran against me, I'd say, I'll debate you every two weeks between now and Election Day. Let the public learn from hearing the debates. I won't say he's afraid to debate, but it looks that way.

KW: A final question. What are some of the ways that Pombo has been neglecting the district here, his own district?

McCloskey: There's the water quality in the San Joaquin River, the levees, and the strength of the levees in the Delta, most of all the traffic. Half of my old district seems to be moving from the Peninsula and the East Bay over here for affordable housing. The other morning, I drove out at 5:30 in the morning coming to Stockton on Route 580; cars were ten feet apart, four lanes abreast. At 5:30 in the morning there's an absolute traffic jam. He hasn't brought in any money to widen those highways. He really has not paid attention to this district. One child in six is getting asthma as a result of the air quality. He refuses to accept that global warming is an issue. He says that certainly automobile emissions are not creating greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. That's a head-in-the-sand attitude for this valley, in which traffic and air pollution are crucial issues. San Joaquin County is part of the poverty belt of California. They're below poverty level, way below the average in California. He's just voted to cut Medicaid and Medicare and Head Start programs. That's not what a congressman from this district ought to be doing.

| »

Interruption

Submitted: Feb 28, 2006

The Modesto version of the Denny Show sounds about the same as its Merced prototype (see article below): The congressman, local elitists and bureaucrats tell stories that comfort themselves in a setting designed to look like a meeting with the people which prevents the people from speaking directly to the great man without appearing to interrupt the steady flow of self-serving propaganda.

To interrupt:

The Valley needs to stop growing. Building should cease until people have had time to consider what this boom is doing, in which 20-30 percent of the houses are built for speculators.

We clearly need more agricultural land and natural habitat, not less. Selfishly, we need it for our health and survival – for better air and water and to do our part to stop global warming. At a higher level, natural resources have their own intrinsic values. We need to remember what we knew before we could conceive of the scale of destruction now engulfing the state: Nature has value for us if we can accept it.

Special interests and their politicians cannot accept it; slurbocracy is the result.

Politicians all repeat the lines of corporations, developers and big landowners, usually also major USDA subsidy farmers who pay what the people cannot afford to pay, the cost of political campaigns. The largest costs in campaigns are for media, principally for televisison. An equal and adequate amount of television should be made available for free to all candidates for public office in the United States, regardless of party. Media corporations work ceaselessly to keep that issue out of public consciousness, spending millions to lobby to erase the very thought of it. Politicians are afraid to liberate themselves from the domination of corporate media.

The only serious dialogue that occurs about the environment, at least in California, occurs either in court or under threat of court. Cardoza, a typical tool of the environmentally destructive faction, thinks, "There are organizations that are being funded solely by the lawsuits they file under the act … Everybody is suing. That is not governing properly."

Bipartisan window dressing in the all-Republican House of Representatives, Cardoza became the rear end of the Pomboza when he co-authored the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. He has wormed his way up in the hierarchy of Democrat sycophants in the House, lately becoming the co-chair of communications for the Blue Dog Coalition. The Blue Dogs are a group of conservative Democrats, mainly from large USDA-subsidy districts, who, being dogs, vote mainly along with their Republican masters. Now that he is the top Blue Dog barker, he doesn’t have to listen to anyone else anymore except Pombo.

For the record, however, the last time Dennis Cardoza met two of the most active members of the environmental community in his district was on the night he received word he would be made chairman of the Rules Committee in the state Assembly. The meeting occurred in Simon’s Restaurant near the state Capitol. Cardoza came over to their table, flanked by a couple of new staff, and asked if the diners were going to oppose UC Merced. On hearing that this was likely, he gave the table his rump, announcing over his shoulder, “Then we will do battle.” He has not spoken a word to these people since, nor has his staff. That’s a competent politician at work?

The Shrimp Slayer would have you believe he genuinely can’t understand why some people in his district are willing to go to court to defend environmental law and regulation. They do it because it is an authentic public right and responsibility and the last and only means for the public to protect the environment against drastic destruction and to protect the Public Trust and the legal processes of government. For example, in 1985, US Fish & Wildlife biologists discovered evidence of massive selenium poisoning in Kesterson Wildlife Refuge, in the middle of the district Cardoza now represents. The campaign by politicians, the Bureau of Reclamation, water agencies (principally Westlands Water District), and farmers to suppress the hard scientific ground-truthing was so grotesque Congress passed an act to protect whistleblowers the following year.

The Shrimp Slayer would have you believe that because UC Merced brings its enormous (if tarnished) prestige to his district and the promise of great wealth to an already wealthy faction in his district, that it is categorically exempt from state and federal environmental law and regulation. When obstacles to this legal theory developed, the Shrimp Slayer introduced legislation to change national environmental law to prove his point. His point, at this juncture, remains unproven. That’s a competent politician at work?

His contention that people are making a living off environmental suits is false, at least in his district. But it raises another question: How much money does Cardoza’s campaign receive from special interests destroying the environment, environmental law and regulation by lawsuit, legislation and intimidation?

He complained recently, allegedly on behalf of two irrigation districts in his district, about the “secrecy” surrounding the confidential negotiations in the 18-year-old lawsuit on the flow of water into the San Joaquin River below the Friant Dam. For the last 50 years, the Friant-Kern Canal has taken about 90 percent of the water creating a dead river from Fresno County to the Delta.

We notice on Cardoza’s campaign website that he is not being honored by these two irrigation districts. However, in mid-March, he will be “saluted” by Tom Birmingham, CEO of Westlands Water District, and two large, very rich Westlands’ customers, Mark Borba (cotton), and John Harris (beef, vegetables and racehorses). Westlands, under Birmingham the Litigator’s reign, is probably the most litigious water agency in the nation as well as being the largest. During the last round of negotiations on Friant, Westlands sued each party, has filed numerous suits since, and are backing the limitation of the definition of wetlands under the Clean Water Act being currently heard in the US Supreme Court.

Whenever Cardoza mentions “balance,” it is hypocrisy and corporate money talking. He thinks lawsuits are just dandy if they are on behalf of large special interests. If they are against the large special interests, the Shrimp Slayer considers them bad governing.

Was it good governing when, as chairman of the state Assembly Agriculture Committee, he sold out the Williamson Act to Merced County as “mitigation for UC Merced”? Was his Select Committee on Tire Fires good governing? The only justice the victims of the Filbin tire fire got was what they sued for. They didn’t get it from Cardoza.

Is it good governing to squat on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building during the biggest building boom in county history carefully nurturing the development of UC Merced by circumventing the legal processes of land-use land, planning and environmental law and regulation. He started his career as one of the many Mr. UC Merceds in the state Legislature cooking up schemes to “fast track” UC – induced growth in the San Joaquin Valley.

But what’s interesting about the Shrimp Slayer’s Republican, conservative, corporate ass-kissing in a district that took home $335 million in farm subsidies and much more in water subsidies between 1995-2004, is how little there is to show for it. The Bush 2007 Farm Bill proposal will hurt cotton, dairy and rice as it stands.

Or is the Bush Farm Bill proposal merely a cynical, calculated shakedown of agriculture for political contributions? Will Blue Dogs hunkering under Massa’s table get some scraps?

Farming in the Valley is sick unto death. There is a frenzied sense in it now, a feeling that no amount of production can catch up with falling commodity prices and groundwater levels, and rising real estate prices. Today, it seems largely a corporate land deal with some meanwhile crops, trees, vines or cows. In the present economy of real estate speculation bubble and developer ownership of the state’s politicians, farming has lost its future, its creativity and its grip on reality. While the farmer can't plan, the developer plants.

Developers run the political economy of the state and they own the politicians as completely as the Railroad once owned them, before the Progressive Era. This financial domination of absolutely everything by the state’s top development corporations has created a situation in which a farmer can’t be a farmer or a politician a politician, a teacher a teacher, a doctor a doctor, even a newspaper reporter a reporter, and on and on – because “Development” won’t allow any professions or vocations to exist without its corrupting paws in their pockets or over their mouths. American government from city hall to Washington is in a coma. Business is about profit, loss and risk. It tries to maximize the former and eliminate the two other factors as best it can. Buying and destroying government regulation is a logical strategy. When political representatives will no longer protect the people and their natural resources against business, it’s time to find representatives who will.

Yes, you can blame politicians for being corrupt, venal and sycophants of power. You can blame them for selling out the general public, the Public Trust and the common good for a bone under the table. Their job is to defend the government so that it can defend the people against the periodic surges of corporate power that are well known features of capitalist economies and the periodic fantasies of world domination in our diseased dynastic political class. When politicians sell the government to the corporations and the autocrats, they sell their sworn duty, the honor of the office and the Constitution upon which we rest.

End interruption.

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

2-26-06
Modesto Bee
Cardoza criticizes port deal, Bush Drug plan. But environmentalists take him to task at public forum...Roger W. Hoskins
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11852249p-12584435c.html
Congressman Dennis Cardoza's traveling town meeting came to Modesto on Saturday and a round table of experts answered questions and offered a glimpse of the Central Valley's future...representatives from Caltrans, the state air quality board, Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, Great Valley Director Carol Whiteside, a farmland preservation advocate and a pharmacist. Stanley Gainer of Keyes...Why can't we ask questions?" "It's supposed to be a town hall meeting, not a town control meeting." ...environmentalists interrupted Cardoza as he explained why he was part of the move to modify the Endangered Species Act. "There are organizations that are being funded solely by the lawsuits they file under the act," Cardoza said. "Everybody is suing. That is not governing properly." Merced College professor Eric Caine was skeptical..."I don't think a reform bill led by Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) will take into consideration enough science,"... Jeanni Farri of the Farmland Working Group..."The valley is the eighth wonder of the world (with its farm production)," she said. "We dare not pave it over." Whiteside..."Affordable housing may come as close as there is to an insoluble problem"...growth in the valley also was linked to water quality...conserving potable water should be a valley priority.

| »

A river of milk runs through it

Submitted: Feb 16, 2006

Elections and debate on a new five-year Farm Bill are upon us. The Bee reported last week that members of the House Agriculture Committee will be visiting Stockton in the first week of March to hold hearings on the Bush administration's proposals.

These proposals include taxing dairymen 3 cents per hundredweight, cutting cotton and rice subsidies and a $200-million annual subsidy to promote American agricultural exports. Recent recipients include Blue Diamond Growers, the California Table Grape Commission and Sunkist Growers, the Bee reported. (1)

It's a shakedown. To make it more obvious, Bush is proposing sizable cuts in farm supports in this year's budget.

Mike Marsh, CEO of United Western Dairymen told the Bee that 3 cents per hundredweight worked out to about "$5,700" per year to an 800-cow dairy. A fraction -- probably a significant fraction but less than the tax -- will be required in the form of campaign contributions to buy off the tax.

Presumably, cotton, rice and the fruit and nut corporations are busily calculating the campaign-contribution costs, too. Meanwhile, learned consultants are coming up with new words for subsidies and new ways of hiding them from the public on the assumption that agricultural economics as we know it will continue and agriculture will come up with the political vig.

The choice of Stockton for the Central California hearing is interesting because Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy has a challenger in the Republican primary, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Woodside.

Pombo is known primarily as chairman of the House Resources Committee and as the face of the ESA-gutting team. The rear end of the team is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, a "Democrat" so popular with the Republican developers, landowners and real estate speculators in his district he appears to be running unopposed for his next term.

However, although Pombo and his “bipartisan” sidekick, Cardoza are primarily known for their hard right, pro-growth, anti-environmental positions, they are both members of the Agriculture Committee. He sits on the Livestock and Horticulture, and the Department Operations, Oversight, Dairy, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittees.

In local farming circles, the Pombo/Cardoza operation is known as The Pomboza.

The Bee commented:

Realistically, Capitol Hill is not fertile soil for many of the farm proposals planted by the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget, which starts Oct. 1. Some, such as a proposed 5 percent cut in crop subsidies and a $250,000 limit on subsidies paid to individuals, withered quickly in past years. (1)

In other words, it's an old, rotten story we no longer have to think much about because farmland is disappearing, replaced by subdivisions like those on Pombo Real Estate Farms in Tracy.

Coverage of the farm budget is more vivid in Great Falls, MT, not experiencing a speculative housing bubble at the moment, and is probably more representative of how the Central Valley’s remaining farmers sense the situation:

Ag feels pinch in Administration's proposed budget

By DALE HILDEBRANT, For The Prairie Star
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There were few cheers on Capitol Hill, as President Bush delivered his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The budget slashes many domestic programs, including agriculture, while projecting a record $423 billion deficit. The overall suggested spending bill will cost $2.77 trillion and would give the Pentagon a 6.9 percent increase and a 14 percent boost to foreign aid.

There weren't any budget increases in the ag portion of the spending bill, only cuts and a proposed tax on sugarbeet producers and dairy farmers. The Administration plan would cut crop subsidies by five percent while increasing certain agricultural fees, including a 1.2 percent tax on sugarbeet growers, which is identical to a proposal made last year by the White House, but scrapped later by Congress.

Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, in addressing the budget ag proposals said, “The President's budget proposed today is full of gimmicks and runs low on common sense.

“For agriculture, at best, this budget is a rehash of the President's strategy of sacrificing farm support for a sell at any cost international trade policy. At worst, this budget shows no commitment on the part of the President to the needs of our nation's farmers,” he continued. “America 's farmers and ranchers cannot afford the uncertainty that these proposals would create, and Congress should quickly reject them ...” (2)

The choice of Stockton as the site for this congressional hearing also has historical resonance with McCloskey in the race.

Dairy industry critic, Robert Cohen, wrote:

While writing MILK: The Deadly Poison, I discovered transcripts of Nixon's actual meeting with dairymen on March 23, 1971.

Knowing the tapes were running, and having been presented with $3 million dollars in cash, Nixon was recorded saying: "Uh, I know...that, uh, you are a group that are politically very conscious...And you're willing to do something about it. And, I must say a lot of businessmen and others...don't do anything about it. And you do, and I appreciate that. And I don't have to spell it out."

After the dairymen had left, advisor John Connally was alone with Nixon, and said:
"They are tough political operatives. This is a cold political deal." …

What did this $3 million dollar "investment"do for the dairy industry? In 1971, 120 billion pounds of milk were produced. An additional 27 cents per hundred pounds of milk translated to $3.24 billion extra dollars for the dairy industry.

On March 23, 1971, Secretary of the Treasury, John Connally summarized the day's events to Nixon: "These dairymen are organized; they're adamant, they're militant...And they, they're massing an enormous amount of money that they're going to put into political activities, very frankly." (3)

In March 1971, Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-CA, had just returned from Vietnam. Recently, he recalled that month:

While in Vietnam and Laos during March 1971, I had taken sworn affidavits from a number of pilots who stated they had been bombing targets in Laos and Cambodia, many with the coordinates of specific rural villages, some being in Laos' famous Plain of Jars, a considerable distance from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which had once been a legitimate bombing target.

Upon returning home, I testified before two Senate committees. I was interviewed on various television shows, including that of William Buckley. I related the stories of the bombings of which I had been told, both by Air Force pilots and by Laotian refugees from the Plain of Jars. My statements were immediately denied by various high-ranking administration spokesmen, who stated unequivocally that the United States was not bombing in Laos. The controversy received national coverage ...

A few days later, it was announced that we were indeed bombing in Laos, but that for security reasons, this knowledge had been withheld from the civilian secretaries of the Air Force, Navy and Army. At the direct order from the White House to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, false coordinates were reported to the secretaries for the daily and nightly bombing runs over Laos and Cambodia. The justification, then as now, was that national security required that the bombing raids not be disclosed to the American people. (4)

McCloskey ran against Nixon in the New Hampshire Republican primary in 1972. No doubt, the Nixon campaign in New Hampshire was funded partly by dairy money. McCloskey went on to serve another decade in Congress. Among his accomplishments was co-authoring the Endangered Species Act. He said at a Stockton meeting late last year that he had tried to testify on the ESA three times before Pombo’s resources committee and each time Pombo had refused him a hearing.

The Bushites might be holding this hearing in Stockton to shore up Pombo's support in his district against a dangerous opponent, not only of Pombo, but also of this administration. Rove could not possibly want McCloskey, who campaigned for Kerry in 2004, (5) in Congress next year. McCloskey would become an instant leader of moderate, ethically minded Republicans against the war-mad, rightwing House leadership and White House.

The Bush administrative version of political support is more money from fewer, bigger contributors. The aim could be to redeem the hearts and minds of the 11th CD by mixing agriculture and developer cash in with Abramoff contributions. Why not? Rove gave agribusiness what some say was the most lavish farm bill on record in 2002. (6)

Now the White House is playing rough: it's a guns v. butter moment.

What will Pombo say at the hearing on the esoteric topic of the next farm bill? Will he earn their money from gratitude by going against his president and his rightwing ideology? Or will he earn their money from fear by supporting the dairy tax and the subsidy cuts? Or will he, most characteristically, say one thing in public and do another thing in private? How will Pombo of Tracy's Pombo Real Estate Farms relate to Pombo, member of the House agriculture committee? Will he turn the hearing into an anti-ESA, pro-private property rights rally? Will he wear his cowboy hat?

Who cares? Whatever he does, he will remain within character as a buffoon of the emerging autocracy.

One can imagine a Pombo fundraiser in early March, co-hosted by Western United Dairymen and the region's most prominent developers, Grupe, Spanos and Tsakapoulos -- because today's young mega-dairyman may have to sell his real estate tomorrow if the subsidies aren't adequate.

In Pombo's politics, San Joaquin Valley agriculture, the greatest laboratory in the world for the study of what is wrong with the industrial, corporate agricultural model, has reached a higher stage of absurd destruction: Pombo’s politics are like the Holstein heifers born every day without working reproductive organs because their mothers are "spiked" with growth hormones; like the billions of almond blossoms waiting for bees that do not come; like developer-sponsored childhood asthma; like commuter-clogged highways to disappearing Silicon Valley jobs; like Pombo Real Estate Farms; like the dead San Joaquin River; and like the extinction of wildlife on land and fish in the Delta. This absurd destruction must be as attractive and familiar to Bush and Rove as McCloskey's honesty must be hateful to them.

However, rather than any clear political agenda in the latest proposed farm bill, we might just be observing the blind workings of the free market in that business enterprise called the American political system. Despite the recent overwhelming speculative bubble in housing in the Valley, agriculture is still the region’s enduring economy. It’s a terrible system at the moment. It is easy to agree with almost all its critics. The only caution is that if you too suddenly remove the system of subsidies upon which much of the Valley agricultural economy rests, and pave it over and turn it into a horribly polluted labor camp for the convenience of rich, coastal counties, it will have had no more chance of evolving than the San Joaquin Kit Fox.

Perhaps in the course of his campaign, McCloskey can teach the Pomboza the meaning of the word, “oversight.”
------------------

(1) www.modbee.com/business/story/11795200p-12512621c.html

(2) http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2006/02/15/ag_news/local_and_regional_news/local12.txt

(3) www.notmilk.com/trickydick.html

(4) http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0405-05.htm

(5) inprogress.typepad.com/republicanswitchers/ files/ifyoureatruerepublicanvote4kerrymccloskey.pdf

(6) www.pacificresearch.org/ press/kqed/2002/kqed_02-06-04.html

| »


To manage site Login