Public Health and Safety

The cult of Valley followership

Submitted: Mar 11, 2007

“In order to fight each other, the chicks born from the same mother hen put colors on their faces.” -- Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, founder of study centers and active in working for peace during the war in Vietnam.

"You don't know who's swimming nekkid till the tide goes out." -- attributed to Warren Buffett, NPR Marketplace, March 9, 2007

This site has been critical of local leadership for some time. Although at times individuals have been singled out, there has been more criticism of the entire leadership institution, or cult, in the Valley, than of any individual. Experience arguing with government about its policies and direction demonstrate quite vividly that the individuals are nearly completely interchangeable by the time they have been selected for leadership.

It has been the direction, most of all, that has been so disturbing, although the means by which the direction has been achieved are not above reproach. These means, involving much corruption of existing law and public process will continue to be challenged because they must be challenged.

However, the leaders, egged on by a remorselessly personalizing media that tends to present a story involving the most general principles of law and ethics as gossip, take personal affront when they are caught just doing another deal, business as usual. They ought to spare the public their sensitivities; most people know somehow that our individual leaders, whatever their strengths and attractiveness may be, are no match for the special interests whose profits are the true guides of the direction the town and county have taken.

The problem is neither personal or local. There are many regional influences in the same direction. For example, the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District proposes a negative declaration for its new ozone plan. Having drawn even with the worst air pollution basin in the nation, the district doesn't want an environmental impact report on its plan. Regional councils of governments, also appointed boards, pretend to have some concern for air quality but in fact function as legally suitable recipients for federal highway funds based on their transportation plans that promote even more urban growth. These COGs and CAGs are responsible for a series of county measures to increase sales taxes to create matching funds that, they hope, will attract more highway funds. San Joaquin County, which has had such a sales tax increase for several years, just discovered that this particular form of bribery doesn't work -- either because the state transportation department doesn't think the county's plan is that good or because other counties had more political muscle.

Some might take this message from CalTrans to San Joaquin County as a nearly divinely inspired excuse to slow Valley growth. But those people are not members of the Valley leadership cult, for which more growth is the only solution to all problems.

At the level of the state Legislature, nobody but a shrinking group who will never see sixty again can even remember when developers didn't control the important legislation, despite the environmental posturing of elected officials, which has grown positively theatrical with the arrival of Our Hun in the governor's office.

Beyond the state Legislature, our region in particular has been visited by the Pomboza, a bipartisan partnership between representatives Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, which introduced numerous bills to gut the Endangered Species Act on behalf of developers building in their adjoining north Valley districts. Although Pombo was defeated by outraged environmentalists from around the country in the last election, he has joined an anti-environmental lobbying firm, so we imagine the Pomboza is alive and well behind the scenes, where Pombo may prove an even more environmentally
destructive politician than he was as the chairman of the House Resources Committee, since November restored to its earlier title, Natural Resources Committee.

Further examples of the federal approach to the San Joaquin Valley include: the Bureau of Reclamation's latest scheme to avoid responsibility for the selenium disaster on the west side: privatize the San Luis Reservoir; and the full-court attack of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, against the Fraint Dam/San Joaquin River Settlement. The precedent of environmentalists, farmers and water districts coming to an agreement (albeit under warning from federal court that a settlement would be better than a judge's decision strictly by the law), must not be allowed to see the light of day or the world will end, according to Nunes -- willing to skewer his fellow Republican, Rep. George Radanovich of Mariposa in the process.

California's senior US senator, Dianne Fienstein, is the wife of investment banker, Richard Blum, presently chairman of the UC Board of Regents. This power team has rendered the term "conflict of interest" meaningless in California.

In a war began as the result of lies the administration told, the US military, the most powerful, best armed, most highly technologized and expensive miltary in the world, "is in danger of being driven back by a few tens of thousands of lightly armed irregulars, who have developed tactics capable of destroying multimillion-dollar vehicles and aircraft." The American military reaction in Iraq is characterized as "unadorned state terrorism." There is no doubt that denial historical knowledge goes straight to the top of US government. Bush now has been caught so thoroughly in his web of lies that drumbeats for impeachment keep growing.

Obviously, it won't do to blame local leaders for the general dysfunction and atmosphere of lies and destruction. However, given the topography and climate of the San Joaquin Valley, its leaders' growth policy for the profit of national and international finance, insurance and real estate interests at the expense of the public health and safety in the agricultural heartland of the most productive farming and ranching state in the nation, is, in a word, absurd, upside-down, backwards. However, if you stand on your head, it all comes clear: the leaders aren't actually leaders, they are just a select group of strong personalities trained in a cult to follow business, the bigger business the better. What they call "the real world" in authoritative tones designed to crush all question or criticism, is in fact a materialist fantasy of a hierarchy of wealth. This theory of leadership that is actually followership begs the lamentable question: who will be found nekkid when the tide goes out? We would prefer leadership that addresses the real, organic problems of the Valley and find means of improving things. Paving it over simply denies the responsibility of maintaining one of the most vital agricultural areas in the nation.

Any appeal to giantism finds a vigorous response in the Valley, however, because the Valley produces veritable Leviathans of corporate agribusiness and public works: Gallo Wine, Hilmar Cheese, Boswell Cotton, the largest public irrigation projects in the world, etc. This form of economic development has produced tremendous riches for a few and the lowest standard of living in the state for the many and has created a population dislocation in Mexico that has damaged both sides of the border and become a chronic, uncontrollable "hot-button" issue for the authoritarian racist crowd.

One of the major problems of thinking about the Valley is that its leadership denies the history of the Valley. Elites constantly form, rise, and morph between outside-funding cycles. A good example is the Great Valley Center, founded by a former pro-growth Modesto mayor on grants from a young, aggressive charitable foundation based in Silicon Valley and a group of the proper national environmental non-profits with completely self-serving agendas. As far as GVC was concerned, history began when it got its non-profit status and first grants. Its agenda was based on the idea that growth is inevitable and it produced numerous "smart growth" fantasies in a series of workshops and conferences noting for the declining quality of thinking and of sandwiches. Finally, it has joined in a win-win, private-public partnership with UC Merced, a public corporation convinced that absolutely nothing existed in the Valley before Itself arrived. The idea that history is nothing but the chronicle of the current leadership cult has been as thoroughly discredited as the flat-earth theory.

Despite high concentrations of wealth in a few agribusiness fortunes, there is relatively little philanthropy beyond projects that advertise their funders. Support for glamorless programs that get youth started in the right direction, shelter the homeless and care for the e;derly poor who honestly labored here and in general helps the community rise according to invaluable local knowledge about how resources should best be spent, was more evident 50 years ago than it is today. And UC Merced has made the situation worse by ripping off enormous tax-deductible contributions from regional plutocrats. UC Merced should not be blamed for this. The Valley has not had real charitable-spending leadership. The results of the lack of it are all around us. We have not been charitable where it matters. This must remain a mystery if one is not to indulge in futile blaming.

Nor can one blame Christianity for Valley churches that spend more time bashing gays than supporting the poor. We can see where an attitude of denial of reality greed and hypocrisy ends, but it is harder to see where it began. Perhaps, as some thoughtful religionists suggest, there is simply a loss of soul in America. Perhaps the prices paid for power and wealth were too high. Psychologist Erich Fromm noted 40 years ago:

The very picture of mid-twentieth century capitalism is hardly distinguishable from the
caricature of Marxist socialism as drawn by its opponents."

An article last week in the Merced Sun-Star, describes a quandary a Detroit-based developer and the city find themselves in:

Bellevue Ranch is the second largest development the company is currently working on.
Navigating endangered species and wetlands laws marks new territory for city officials too, who find themselves dealing with fairy shrimp for the first time within the city limit.

We begin with the Bellevue Ranch as a regulatory/development problem, with no reference to what it was, no reference to the lawsuit that produced the EIR on the project, and city officials are presented as having known nothing about the endangered species present on the land. This is deceit, not journalism.

The article echoes statements about vernal pools and fairy shrimp (endangered as are 11 species of plants found only around vernal pools) made from the earliest planning stages of UC Merced. It represents the earlier outrage, voiced by the various local Mr. and Ms. UC Merceds of their moments, that the fairy shrimp and the vernal pools in which they live are the greatest enemy Valley civilization has faced since Estanislao broke out of Mission San Jose. Once again, local business and political leaders, following the profit needs of outside developers, line up against an embattled federal resource agency charged under the Endangered Species Act with protecting endangered species that only live a few months a year and rarely exceed two inches in length. Yet their range in Merced County includes the eastern and western watersheds, the pastures where percolation takes place. By protecting fairy shrimp and vernal pools, local leaders would be protecting air quality and water quality and quantity for existing Valley residents. But local leaders didn't become local leaders by listening to any interest but business, which in the Valley regards all land in farming and ranching as fair game for more subdivisions. If it sounds as if I am excluding the farming and ranching business, like they say, there is no parcel of land in the Valley not for sale at a price. Agricultural organizations have fallen into a state of political autism, paralyzed by their dual position as both producers and landowners. Large landowners, like Mike Gallo and the Kelley family, become developers while smaller farmers suffer the steady degradation of their districts by encroaching urban development. In the battle between the farm and the subdivision, development always kicks the teeth out of "right to farm" policies.

So, we are in for another round of smart-growth fantasies as the air quality deteriorates and the water quality and quantity diminishes unless the nationwide speculative housing boom, particularly egregious here, produces a national recession that stops economic growth. Leadership by developer feeding frenzy halted by national recession is not our idea of leadership. The local followership cult is outrageously irresponsible, greedy, and it grovels before outside finance, insurance and real estate special interests.

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

Notes:

3-6-07
Merced Sun-Star
Tiny shrimp blocking builder...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13354476p-13977705c.html

3-7-07
Merced Sun-Star
Building permits decline...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13357619p-13980593c.html

2-22-07
Central Valley Business Times

California housing remains nation’s least affordable, despite cooling prices
LOS ANGELES
http://centralvalleybusinesstimes.com/stories/001/?ID=4411&ref=patrick.net

2-26-07
Modesto Bee
Vacant and costly
Empty homes leave owners on the hook
By J.N. SBRANTI
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13300377p-13929065c.html

'Smart' rebels outstrip US
Top American generals make shock admission as Iraq leader pleads with neighbouring

countries to seal off their borders
Paul Beaver in Fort Lauderdale and Peter Beaumont
Sunday March 11, 2007
The Observer
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2031172,00.html

Surge and Destroy
The Brutality Escalates in Iraq
By Michael Schwartz
Tomdispatch.com -- March 11, 2007

Marx's Concept of Man, Erich Fromm, Ungar, New York, 1966.

Factories in the Field, Cary McWilliams, Peregrine Press, 1971 (originally published in

1935)

| »

Must make sense in Tracy

Submitted: Feb 10, 2007

The Tracy City Council voted on Tuesday to oppose the UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory proposal to build a level-4 biowarfare laboratory at Site 300, a nearby bomb-testing site owned by the Department of Energy and managed by UC/Lawrence Livermore.

At the same meeting, the council voted to support trebling the amount of explosives that can be used on Site 300.

Both votes were 3-1.

Site 300 is outside the Tracy city limits.

Presumably, the two votes make sense in Tracy.

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

2-7-07
Tracy Press
Council votes against proposed bio-lab...John Upton

http://tracypress.com/content/view/7689/2/
Councilwoman Irene Sundberg, Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert and Councilman Steve Abercombie voted Tuesday night to oppose a proposal by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to build the bio-lab at Site 300 in the hills southwest of Tracy, even though the council has no jurisdiction over the site. Acting Mayor Suzanne Tucker voted against opposing the lab... University of California Vice Provost for Research Lawrence Coleman asked Tracy City Council to not take a position on the bio-lab until the Department of Homeland Security provides more information later this year. The University of California operates Lawrence Livermore for the Department of Energy. Sundberg criticized Lawrence Livermore for taking too long to clean Site 300 contaminants...You’ve got no money to clean it up. And now you want to put more stuff in my backyard. Activist Bob Sarvey played an audio tape from a Nov. 15 public forum on the bio-lab, in which Lawrence Livermore spokeswoman Susan Houghton acknowledged that human errors could occur at the bio-lab and that homeowners might need to warn potential homebuyers about the facility. Stockton resident Mike Robinson, president of the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau, and Livermore resident Darrel Sweet, a past president of the California Cattleman’s Association, said the agricultural industry supports building the bio-lab at Site 300 in part because it would help speed up detection of exotic diseases in California’s agricultural stock.

2-8-07
Tracy votes down controversial bio lab...Jake Armstrong

http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070208/A_NEWS/702080318
The Tracy City Council voted late Tuesday night to oppose the University of California's bid to locate a federal laboratory that would research incurable diseases on a high-explosives test range southwest of the city...called the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. In a twist of irony, moments later, the council by the same margin voted to support an increase in the amount of explosives used in tests on the range known as Site 300, a 7,000-acre parcel owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Air pollution regulators in December gave Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory approval to more than triple the amount of explosives it uses in its outdoor tests at Site 300. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Hearing Board was set Wednesday to hear an appeal of the permit, which allows the laboratory to use 350 pounds of explosives a day and up to 8,000 pounds a year. However, the board voted to continue the hearing to next month in order to handle a request for public documents. Tracy council does not have jurisdiction over Site 300, which is just outside city limits, the city's opposition to the bio lab will be put into a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials who are evaluating more than a dozen proposals from universities and laboratories seeking to win the facility. The lab would also research incurable pathogens in an area of the strictest containment level, or Bio-Safety Level 4. Other factors that will influence the final decision are a local work force with experience running high-level bio-safety labs and access to multiple forms of transportation from the site, Kelly said. The 18 contenders for the bio lab face a Feb. 16 deadline to submit more information on their proposals to DHS, which plans to visit the sites and make final recommendations sometime from March to May. Environmental impact studies on a short list of sites will begin in July, with a finalist being named in October 2008. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010, and the bio lab is expected to be up and running as early as 2013.

| »

Some evolutionary considerations

Submitted: Feb 03, 2007
1-24-07
Tracy Press
Supes vote to back bio-lab...John Upton

http://tracypress.com/content/view/7317/2/
Acting on the advice of its agricultural committee, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to support an anti-biological terrorism laboratory that could be built southwest of Tracy to research incurable fatal diseases that affect both animals and people. Superintendent Steven Gutierrez voted against his colleagues, saying it was too early to determine whether the research activities would help safeguard and support the general public. “What research activity” Gutierrez said. “You don’t know what they’re going to do.” The Department of Homeland Security and Lawrence Livermore have not yet announced what types of diseases will be studied at the bio-lab, how the pathogens will be shipped in and out of the bio-lab, or whether accidents will be publicly reported. The Tracy City Council is expected to vote on whether it supports the bio-lab proposal at its meeting Feb. 6. Lawrence Livermore is managed by the University of California. The university’s agricultural division’s government and external relations director, Steve Nation, said after the meeting that the agricultural industry strongly supports the proposed bio-lab. He said the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms support the bio-lab …

Let us return to ground recently covered. Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, was defeated by a coalition of state and national environmental groups because he and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, collectively known as the Pomboza, tried to gut the Endangered Species Act, one of the most popular laws in America.

Cardoza’s membership in the Pomboza stemmed from his support of the University of California’s attempts to destroy the richest fields of vernal pools, containing 15 endangered plants and animals, in the nation.

UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to win the contract to put a level-4 biowarfare laboratory on Site 300, the Livermore lab’s bomb-testing site, near Tracy. This lab would test the most dangerous biological toxins known to man. And it would get lots of defense grants for UC.

Congressional hearings are currently being held that raise the question: is UC, even with Bechtel at its side, incapable of running Los Alamos National Laboratory competently, or is it just impossible to run a weapons of mass destruction lab securely?

The ordinary person in Northern California has read a number of articles in recent years pointing out that UC security at the Livermore lab is not too hot either.

Maybe, that ordinary citizen, especially if he or she lives downwind from Tracy, does one more step of reasoning. You have to coat a bomb with plutonium and detonate it for its dust to spread around too much and pollute the groundwater, as it has near Tracy. It would seem that all you would have to do with a killer virus would be to drop a bottle of it on the floor and it could be all over the region rather quickly. Isn’t that what they do in a state of nature?

When that sort of thought goes through Joe Sixpack’s head, he rolls his eyes, groans, grabs another beer, turns on the TV and hopes he can really, really get into the football game.

An environmentally oriented person will protest this lab, as hundreds of people who have signed petitions against it have done.

Now, here comes the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms. They support the lab, they told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors’ agricultural committee to support it, and they did, leaving it up to the Tracy City Council to hold the line on Feb. 6.

Given the nature of the full-court flak press by UC, the federal government is not interested in putting such an incredibly dangerous laboratory near a place where there is real controversy about it. UC tried several years ago to site this same laboratory at UC Davis, the Davis City Council opposed it adamantly, and the biowarfare lab did not go to Davis. So far, UC has had better luck with the Pomboza.

The decision by agribusiness to support the project was made apparently based on some sort of promises by UC Livermore lab to do some work on animal diseases. This will be done by bringing the animal diseases in concentrated form to the bio lab to research them, right in the middle of the densest populations of cattle and poultry in the state. It is not that these industries lack the benefits of modern agricultural science through the UC Cooperative Extension, the USDA and numerous other scientific entities.

Let’s bring Avian Flu here to the Valley to study it. UC has a proven record of security lapses, but agribusiness knows that UC can do no wrong. If the Avian Flu gets out and wipes out the poultry industry, the migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway and some people, agribusiness and UC can blame it on terrorists. Terrorists are an extremely important part of biowarfare research, because without terrorists, there would be no reason for the research because the terrorists are the ones who are going to introduce the deadly toxins into our environment for which the biowarfare lab is going to create antidotes. The terrorists are going to do this because they hate freedom. If they hate freedom enough to sneak past UC’s porous security and liberate a few deadly cattle and poultry viruses from the Tracy level-4 biowarfare lab, who are you going to blame for that? Osama. Boy, will we be mad at Osama then. We’ll get him for sure if that happens. You bet. But, we’ll have all the antidote we need to inoculate millions of cows, chickens, turkeys, migrating ducks and humans by that time. You bet. UC and the federal government together cannot go wrong.

The only possible explanation for this political decision on the part of agribusiness is that it is anti-environmental. By golly, we’re going to stick it to them damn environmentalists this time! However, one lone San Joaquin County supervisor wisely said that nobody really knew what UC would be studying at the level-4 biowarfare lab. It reminded us in Merced of where UC Merced is going to get its water.

What the proposed biowarfare lab will study will depend on the grants it gets. It will depend overwhelmingly on federal government priorities, which returns us in a dismal circle to the terrorists again. I wonder if there is any other way of getting the terrorists not to unleash deadly plagues upon our livestock, migrating ducks and ourselves other than importing them to the neighborhood to experiment on in another leaky UC weapons of mass destruction lab that would seem to be an attraction for freedom-hating terrorists. But it’s never so simple. Because, in addition to your freedom-hating terrorists, you’ve got those terrorists who just hate Americans because Americans killed their relatives. But that gets into the metaphysics of the imperial defense industry, distracting us from the evolutionary facts on the ground.

Looking at agribusiness from an environmental point of view puts us in mind of what happens to endangered species when they lose too much of their habitat.

Scientific advisory c ommittee to Badlands editorial board
----------------------

Notes:

1-24-07
Stockton Record
Pombo in talks to join Oregon-based lobbying firm...Hank Shaw

http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070124/A_NEWS/701240320
The Washington insider paper Roll Call reported Tuesday: "The former House Resources chairman is in talks with Pac/West Communications, an Oregon-based PR and lobbying firm that has a roster of timber and energy clients." ...the company already has signed a deal with Pombo's former staff director, Steve Ding, to open a California office in Sacramento. Pombo, who, despite reports to the contrary, isn't rolling in dough, might very well need the added income - especially now that he'll probably keep his town house in Virginia.

1-31-07
Contra Costa Times
Nuclear security agency at risk...AP, MedialNews staff writer Ian Hoffman contributed to this story
http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/16586727.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Fed-up lawmakers on a House oversight committee said Tuesday that they want to strip a federal nuclear-weapons agency of its security responsibilities, and they threatened to shut down Los Alamos National Laboratory, now under new managers from the Bay Area. The lawmakers criticized the lab for its most recent security breach, in which a contract worker walked out with more than 1,500 pages of classified documents. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said that if problems cannot be solved this time, he will ask that Los Alamos lab, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, be shut down. After more than 60 years of operation by the University of California, the lab now is run by former Lawrence Livermore lab director Michael Anastasio and a consortium led by UC and San Francisco-based Bechtel National. Barton, Dingell and others on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a measure Tuesday to strip the National Nuclear Security Administration of its primary security responsibilities and turn them back to the Energy Department...expressed concerns that NNSA has not fixed Los Alamos security problems despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on improvements. A new management team was installed at Los Alamos less than a year ago, in part to reverse years of security and safety problems. The embarrassing October incident involving the classified documents resulted in a shake-up in the agency that oversees the lab. Linton Brooks, already reprimanded for an earlier incident, resigned this month as NNSA chief. Tuesday's four-hour hearing, lawmakers asked repeatedly why the lab needs to exist and whether it simply has too much responsibility for too many secret materials. Deputy energy secretary Clay Sell said Los Alamos probably could not be replaced or duplicated...is the only place where plutonium fission cores for weapons can be made...much of what happens at Los Alamos is secret because the lab is responsible for the bulk of the strategic nuclear weapons stockpile. "It has been suggested that we shoot the dog," Sell responded. "I have to reject that suggestion.”

| »

Ol' Slippery John and the lawsuits

Submitted: Jan 19, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One could ask, How much do these people want?

All of it, would be the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

| »

Merced residents sue County and Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Jan 18, 2007

Merced County sued over approval of Riverside Motorsports Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The petition and notice of intent is attached.

For further information contact:

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

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

| »

Move your environment!

Submitted: Jan 08, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We heard he moved to the coast.

| »

A reliable man

Submitted: Dec 31, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How else is the public expected to understand this appointment?

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

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

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

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

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

| »

Grassrooters' factual flyer on the racetrack

Submitted: Dec 11, 2006

THE OPPONENTS OF RMP WANT YOU TO KNOW:
The attitude of Riverside Motorsports Park and Merced County government toward your environment, health and public safety is: Gentlemen, start your engines, put your pedal to the metal and pass every law and regulation protecting public health and safety on the right as fast as you can.

RMP Chief John Condren claims he’s got your elected officials in his pocket.

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

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

A quorum of supervisors should be disqualified from voting on this project at all, when a developer is bragging that loudly about how he owns them. To begin with, Jerry O’Banion and Kathleen Crookham. O’Banion is widely known as having steered the project from the west side to its present location. Crookham gave a promotional talk on the RMP project before the Clipper Club at Central Presbyterian Church. Their involvement with the project ought to disqualify them from voting on it.

In a January 1, 2005 letter to RMP investors, Condren claimed:
· The traffic plan for the project was complete; NOT TRUE
· Zoning restrictions pertaining to noise impacts have been amended such that unlimited Motorsports activities
may occur without additional restrictions; NOT TRUE
· The RMP Master plan is approved; NOT TRUE
· RMP event schedule will include all the largest names in motorsports. NOT TRUE

Two years later, there is no traffic plan; the EIR simply states that the noise level from auto racing is a “significant, unavoidable impact” to be overridden by a vote of the supervisors; the RMP master plan is only a draft that will be rewritten after – not before – the supervisors approve the project; while RMP tells its investors it will draw all the big names in auto racing (and hundreds of thousands of spectators), it tells the locals the eight tracks in the project will be almost exclusively for local car clubs, drawing only a few thousand spectators.

The Big Consultants Shuffle. The County recommended a firm it has done a great deal of work with, including the lion’s share of planning for UC Merced. It couldn’t come up with a traffic plan, so RMP replaced them with another firm willing to say there is a traffic plan when there isn’t one.

RMP wrote its investors two years ago the traffic studies are all done by Jan. 2005. At the Nov. 15 public hearing on the project, county Public Works informed the public there was no traffic plan. The RMP traffic consultant agreed: there is no traffic plan beyond waiting to see what roads spectators choose.

On Nov. 28, for the first time, county Public Works informed the people of Delhi, that Shanks Road, El Capitan and Palm were going to be a major thoroughfare for race traffic until two weeks ago, that some county roads would need to be widened, which might call for eminent domain if residents and RMP cannot agree on prices.

Who are RMP’s investors? These people are presumably underwriting a project that will significantly worsen our already severe air pollution, fill our country roads with frequent, periodic traffic jams, and fill our ears with the din of racecar engines. The Merced public has a right to view a full financial disclosure statement on who these people are who are investing in the destruction of our environment – before the supervisors we elected vote to approve this project. The public needs to ask how much RMP investor money will end up in campaign coffers of officials we elect.

Indemnification. The County and RMP have an agreement:

Indemnification and Hold Harmless
Approval of this Project is for the benefit of Applicant. The submittal of applications by Applicant for this Project was a voluntary act on the part of the Applicant not required by the County. Therefore, as a condition of approval of this Project, the Applicant agrees to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the County of Merced and its agents, officers, employees, advisory agencies, appeal board or legislative body of Merced County (collectively, “County”) from any and all claims, actions and proceedings against the County to attack, set aside, void, or annul an approval by the County concerning the Project occurring as a result of the action or inaction of the County, and for any and all costs, attorneys fees, and damages arising
therefrom (collectively, “Claim”).”

– INDEMNITY AND HOLD HARMLESS AGREEMENT BETWEEN COUNTY OF MERCED AND RIVERSIDE MOTORSPORTS PARK, LLC, Sept. 12, 2006.

This agreement allows the County to approve this project without taking any responsibility for these new, impacts to our environment added on top of UC Merced and its induced housing boom – air, traffic and noise – because they aren’t liable for legal costs.
However, the County has not yet signed the agreement. nor did they include it in the conditions in the staff report on the project.

Water. A year ago, Board Chairman Mike Nelson misspoke, saying Atwater would supply RMP with potable water. Winton doesn’t have enough water. Water Castle is supplying off-base residents is contaminated. So, where’s the drinking water?

Overweening control of Planning Director.

Modifications to the Development Plan and Administrative Permit may be approved administratively by the Planning Director if determined consistent with the intent of the Master Plan, the RMP EIR, and the procedures and finds defined in Section 18.50.02(D) of the Merced County Zoning Code.

-- P. 7-1, RMP Draft Master Plan

This means that planning director, in concert with RMP, can change the plans for the project any way they want to, unless the public challenges it. In other words, the planning director works from RMP, not for you.

Conflict of interest. The Merced County Board of Supervisors is the land-use authority for all unincorporated land in the county. But, it is also the land-use authority for the former Castle Air Force Base. The RMP project, which adjoins Castle, cannot be approved until the board overrides the noise-zone for the Castle airport established by the airport commission. The board plans to do this on Dec. 12. But, these are two separate actions, both with large consequences to the noise level, and the airport override must be analyzed in the RMP environment impact report. The County did not do that. In fact, there is no analysis on the environmental, public health and safety impacts from this decision. The County is in conflict of interest on these two projects.

Contempt for the public. The County did not make the new staff report to the public (including state and federal agencies) available until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the day before the hearing. Nothing could better express the County’s complete contempt for the public and favoritism for special development interests. It also perfectly expresses the County’s lack of respect for law and elemental fairness. In violation of public access provisions within the California Environmental Quality Act, the public has not been allowed to view the working file of this project without recourse to the state Public Records Act. This is illegal.

The lack of analysis of cumulative economic and environmental impacts from the chaotic growth in Merced requires the public to demand a moratorium on any more projects not already approved by appropriate local, state and federal agencies. RMP is not approved by the appropriate agencies, therefore the board should not approve it before the county general plan has been fully updated in a legally compliant fashion.

The board of supervisors must deny the Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

· an inadequate project description that can be modified at will by administrative decision without public review;
· serious conflicts of interest involving at least two members of the board voting on the project and the applicant’s claims nearly two years ago that he already had a super-majority of supervisors in his pocket;
· segmenting and peacemealing the entirely different project of the override of the Castle Land Use Commission decision, which requires its own EIR;
· deliberate failure of the County to make essential project documents available to the public in a timely manner;
· failure of the land-use authority to perform its mandatory duty to consult federal resource regulatory agencies on the environmental impacts of the proposed project;
· failure to do any analysis on the economic impacts of the proposed project on the Castle Commercial-Aviation Economic Development area;
· failure of the County to do cumulative economic impact studies on the impacts of this proposed project and other commercial, growth-inducing anchor tenants;
· failure of the County to consider the negative impact on the proposed project of the third failure of the transportation tax measure;

OPEN APPEAL TO MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

Dear Supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson, Kelsey and O’Banion: November 27, 2006

Thank you, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, for scheduling three town-hall meetings this week to address the immediate impacts that the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park will have on your district. We would ask that supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson and O’Banion also schedule meetings in their districts and listen to their constituents’ concerns about the RMP project.

Town-hall meetings are not formal hearings and we question how much impact they will have. However, the Board of Supervisors has closed the public hearing. At this stage, town-hall meetings appear to be the best way we have to afford citizens the opportunity to participate in the process.

At the close of the public hearing on RMP, there was still no traffic plan. The traffic study that had been done was based on a flawed, deceptive traffic count in the wrong season for either agricultural harvests or auto racing. This is unacceptable to the public.

The RMP project proposes that District 4’s rural two-lane roads be used as highways for thousands of cars to reach the raceway site. The RMP project will negatively impact the roads, environment and public health and safety of other districts as well. Districts 1, 2, and 3 (Livingston, Atwater & Merced) will be impacted by traffic congestion, slowed response by emergency vehicles, noise, and air quality threats of the project.

All residents will be impacted by road deterioration. Our nationally recognized air pollution could ultimately cause the federal government to stop highway funds until we make greater efforts to clean up our air. We will then be asked to raise our taxes to fix the roads because development does not pay its way.

All Merced County residents will be impacted when the Board of Supervisors lowers the standards of our out-dated General Plan to accommodate the RMP project. The Board should not even consider projects with the massive impacts of RMP before it updates the county General Plan.

We request that the Board of Supervisors do the following:

· hold meetings in all the districts and be accountable to those that elected you to represent our County, not developers’ interests;
· re-open the public hearing on RMP, since about 50 people were not able to testify at the last hearing;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review RMP’s and the Planning Department’s responses to public testimony;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review the traffic study, which was not finished at the time of the public hearing.
· not decide on RMP or other large development projects before the County has finished updating its General Plan.

Thank you.
Tom Grave
Merced County- Citizens Against the Raceway

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Write and call your supervisor and tell them to reopen the public hearing and/or deny this project.

Attend Board of Supervisor meetings on Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. and on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.

Write and call Congressman Cardoza, whose wife is a doctor.

Write and call state Sen. Jeff Denham and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani.

Paid for by Citizens Against RMP

| »

Racetrack promotion meets reality on narrow country roads

Submitted: Dec 08, 2006

The Riverside Motorsports Park/Merced County government pitch for a world-class motor sports facility met a political pitchfork from the nation’s second-largest dairy county on Dec. 5, at the county Board of Supervisors public comment period.

In a short, prepared address concluding the comment period, board Chairman Mike Nelson abused a privileged moment by attacking the public. Nelson’s pitch was that the “leadership of the opposition to the racetrack” had a right to its opinion, but RMP also had a right to its opinion.

In fact, RMP’s position is clearly stated in the environmental review process. The purpose of the environmental review process is to get everybody else’s concerns about a project, not just its proponent’s opinions.

This opponent leadership is always “the same people,” Nelson told the public.

In fact, public opposition to this project is growing by the day as it finds out more about the project and its flaws.

Nelson said, “these same people” time and time again, “try to CEQA projects to death.” They don’t like any projects, he said. In Nelson’s opinion, these leaders of the opponents to the RMP are just a bunch a “NIMBYs.”

“Rarely do we hear any alternatives or mitigation measures proposed” by the leaders of the opponents, he said. “But these people don’t speak for the public,” he said, alleging that a poll taken in Atwater showed a majority of its citizens in favor of the track, located at a site adjoining Atwater.

Members of the audience asked Nelson if they could discuss his claims with him.

“No,” Nelson said, gaveling an end to the morning session, prolonged by almost two hours of 5-minute public comments, a time limit rigidly enforced by Nelson.

To say that the opposition is being led by anybody is a factually challenged statement, but characteristic of the Merced County government, entitled as always to its opinion.

Members of the public against the project weren’t stating opinions but were giving their best analysis of basic, drastic facts. The newest angle on the traffic problem came from dairy families and a custom farmer in the district where, RMP traffic consultants anticipate, possibly four days a week, narrow country roads will be jammed with the cars of concert and race spectators. This will interfere with tight harvest and post-harvest handling schedules, particularly in corn, most of which is harvested about the same time. The possibility of traffic jams interfering with harvest schedules quickly turns to the quantity and quality of dairy feed. Presently, dairies are into months of production below cost, which heightens dairymen’s concerns about all costs, and the quantity and quality of their feed. Jamming narrow country roads with out-of-town auto-racing spectators is a threat to the whole region’s agricultural system, which needs those roads for dairy trucks, tractors, harvesting equipment and feed trucks. And that threat doesn’t include the issue of delayed emergency services, which already take a half an hour.

Farmers and ranchers have had to comply with ever-changing environmental regulations on the parts of their operations that pollute air and water. They look at the RMP environmental impact report and see 34 “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts,” and say if regulation is good for agriculture, it is also good for the motor sports industry, at least in Merced, one of the nation’s premiere agricultural counties.

One dairyman said that if it took six years to get the project right, he urged the board to take the six years if necessary. In fact, farming operations have had to wait as long as six years to get environmental compliance. He added that the board will regain the trust of its constituents by taking the time to do it right, rather than losing the trust of the people doing it the way they are doing it.

You might be able to get away with saying, “So-and-so is an eminent leader, and has long been widely recognized in his business domain.” But if you put those two words side-by-side and speak the term, eminent domain, people become justifiably alarmed. Why the secrecy? That should have been part in the environmental review process. Why was this possibility on certain old, narrow country roads only made known to the public after the public hearing on the environmental review was closed?

Nelson ended his prepared address by noting correctly that none of the testimony at Supervisor Diedre Kelsey’s town hall meetings had any legal force because the public hearing on the RMP environmental review has been closed. In reply to a question on that point at her Delhi town hall meeting, Kelsey said that she could gather new information and inform the supervisors in their discussion of the issue when it comes up for a vote. However, important new information that came out of the meetings from county staff, not from the public.

Everything about this project has the appearance of underhanded dealing for the benefit of special interests. In one commission of bureaucratic slight-of-hand, there will be two votes on the zoning changes and the General Plan amendment necessary to approve the EIR, one expressing “intent” to approve on Dec. 12, the other to approve, on Dec. 19. In another act of tricky dealing, the board will take a crucial vote on the Castle airport noise zone on Dec. 12, without which the RMP project cannot move forward. Some members of the public have already publicly argued for the administrative record in the public hearing that the Castle airport must be a part of the RMP environmental review. Dealing with it the way it is doing, the County is fragmenting and piecemealing the environmental review process.

Experienced observers of Merced County government notice that this sort of bureaucratic trickery reinforces the public opinion that this government is either incompetent, corrupt or both. The learned “experts” on the staff arise and “explain” to the public their ridiculous bureaucratic shenanigans as if they were the latest thing in good planning.

Meanwhile, in the backroom, a select group of representatives of broad-based public organizations receive doses of political cynicism and political impotence from supervisors. It all boils down to the same message: “We are the government. You are the public. We work for special interests. We and special interests win. The public and the Public Trust lose.”

Yet another act of bureaucratic trickery is the indemnification agreement between the County and RMP, which commits RMP to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits the public might bring against the project. In response to a public request to view the indemnification agreement, the County produced an agreement, signed by RMP but unsigned by the County. Approval of the RMP indemnification agreement is on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for Dec. 12.

The Castle airport issue is another bureaucratic hinky wrinkle in the public process. The last we heard, it needed a 4-1 vote to pass. Without it, the RMP project is stopped. It is an intrinsic part of the RMP project that is not considered in the RMP environmental review. Will Kelsey, the hero de jour, stand up for proper public process and vote against it? Will she get another vote against it?

With one stunning exception, important new information has not come from the public from the town hall meetings in either Ballico, Delhi, Winton or the Merced River Corridor. The new information, mainly about anticipated traffic patterns and the eminent domain problem, came from county staff at the town hall meetings. However, the claim by opponents of the project that neither county staff nor project consultants had considered the number of schools located on those narrow country roads is genuinely new, important information concerning the health and safety of children, apart from the broader issue of increased air pollution.

So, where does that leave the public, which Nelson says the opponents of the project cannot speak for, and the project? The California Environmental Quality Act is state law and lays out a procedure for making and voting on EIRs. That procedure includes a public hearing period. The board held one public hearing two weeks ago. Nelson is right: the town hall meetings and the Dec. 5 public-comment period testimony don’t matter for the purposes of CEQA..

It’s clear that public debate is opening up new questions and new information. Yet the public hearing under CEQA is closed. There is an adequate amount of factual information in the official record for the supervisors to reopen the public hearing.

“Time plus integrity produces answers,” one member of the public told the supervisors.

Nelson appeared to be running a campaign for himself rather than chairing a county board of supervisors on a serious issue about a project whose environmental and economic studies are very far from adequate to describe its impacts. Yet, he speaks for the board, identifying a conspiracy of environmental radicals behind every member of the public getting up to express her or his anxiety and anger about the RMP project.

The apparent critic of the project on the board, Kelsey, may be providing toothless forums in her districts for people with serious concerns about RMP impacts, but she is hardly a leader of opposition to the project. If she were, she would not be publicly claiming whenever and wherever possible that she hasn’t made her mind up how she will vote. And she would have moved to keep the public hearing open before it was closed. In fact, the public needs to be very careful about Kelsey, because what we might be seeing here is merely political rivalry between two Republicans seeking higher office jerking around public concerns.

One member of the public chastised Nelson for being rude to a previous speaker. Nelson replied coldly that his comment had been noted.

Where were the other supervisors today? Why weren’t they stepping up and defending the public process? Where is Congressman Cardoza or his staff, state Sen. Jeff Denham or Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani or Matthews or their staffs? The public process by which these massive, environmentally destructive development projects are rubber-stamped in Merced County is broken. It needs the defense of elected officials. It does not need their continual offense.

And, speaking of giving offense to the public process, we include Chairman Nelson’s concluding remarks:

There have been many well meaning, well intentioned leaders of the opposition to the RMP project. I’ve talked to many of them. While we always don’t agree on things (sic) , I have been open to suggestions that they have made. But, just as they have a right to their opinions, the project proponents have a right to their opinions as well.

In my four years on this board, many projects have been proposed. Opponents of this project are many of the same faces we have seen time and time again – those who continually attempt to CEQA projects to death.

You know, CEQA was meant to identify and address environmental concerns. This has been done. The problem appears to me, however, that members of the opposition just don’t like the answers.

I continually hear, “We’re not against racing but the location is wrong,” in essence, “Not In My Back Yard!”

Well, the same can be said for a host of other projects: UC Merced, the UC Community, various housing projects. The list goes on and on.

Rarely do we hear alternatives or mitigations being proposed, other than, “Don’t build it!”

I also keep hearing that many opponents in this audience speak for “the public.”

This is simply not true, at least in District 3.

There was a survey taken back this past spring. Sixty percent of those surveyed were in favor of the project.

The recent call for town hall meetings may be appropriate, however, only with the understanding that public hearings have already been closed on this matter. And, I might point out that there have been many opportunities provided the public to find out about this project.

Next week’s meeting will be a challenge, no doubt. I just hope that the opponents will consider that their opinions are not the only ones that matter.

Thank you.

With that, we’re adjourned for lunch.
---------------------------

To which, some members of the public reply:

· Nelson and the other supervisors refused to meet with members of the public opposed to the RMP project before the close of the public hearing. Afterwards, town hall meetings were held and supervisors met with known opponents. So what?

· Members of the audience were in many instances not offering opinions but responsible estimates (far more realistic and better informed than the project environmental traffic analysis), based on intimate experience with the transportation system, schools and agricultural schedule of the Delhi-Amsterdam-Winton-Merced River Corridor area. People who made written and oral comments to the RMP environmental review used facts, not opinions, to make their arguments.

· Most of the Merced public has not been involved in any CEQA arguments about development projects in Merced County. There are many new faces among the opponents to the RMP project. (Mr. Nelson is beginning his old rightwing war whoop here -- environmentalist-bashing.)

· An environmental review that leaves 34 environmental impacts “significant and unavoidable” glances at environmental issues; it does not address them.

· To the charge of “Not In My Back Yard,” or “NIMBYism,” one must reply: You bet we are trying to defend our backyard against the corrupt influence of special interests on you and the board. That corrupt influence is ruinous to our air and water quality, our road system, our agricultural operations and our natural resources. It is also dangerous to children.

· CEQA does not require the public to do analysis, mitigation, be experts, or offer alternatives.

· The 60-percent of Atwater residents Nelson alleges were in favor of the RMP project weren’t informed in the survey that the County would invoke eminent domain to widen country roads into Atwater to facilitate traffic from Delhi. They weren’t informed that there was no traffic study. They weren’t informed of the number of schools on those routes. They weren’t asked for their approval of the project despite the disruption it would cause normal agricultural operations in the area. The survey wasn’t included in the RMP environmental review. Who wrote the survey and who conducted it?

· The public has been and is standing, and will stand before the board on this project, the next project, and “on and on.”

· They do have legal standing to bring suits on behalf of the public for County noncompliance with environmental law. Most of the people who submitted written and oral testimony during this meeting, town hall meetings and public hearings on this project, represent themselves, their neighbors and their groups. Most of them could prove harm and adverse impacts from this project within the meaning of a number of environmental statutes and regulations. The same is true for regulatory agencies and staff.

· Mr. Chairman, you may be so narrowly focused on special interests that you cannot listen to public concerns that differ from your views. In lieu of so much as a peep out of them, the public assumes you speak for the rest of the supervisors as well, including Kelsey sitting on her fence. No supervisor objected to your offensive oration after the public spent two hours trying to explain, with facts, the major problems with a motorsports park at that location. No supervisor intervened to protect members of the public from your rudeness and unprofessional conduct during the public comment period. You are the politically incompetent chairman of a politically incompetent board and the Merced public is finding your individual and collective incompetence unacceptable dangers to environmental public health and safety. You have broken public due process in this county.

· In the case of development projects, law, at the Merced County Board of Supervisors, boils down to one area: indemnification and hold harmless agreements that commit the developer to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits brought by the public against abuse of state and federal environmental laws and public process by the County, on behalf of those indemnifying the County. In Merced County, these agreements are being used routinely by local land-use authorities as licenses for environmentally and, in some instances, economically irresponsible land-use decisions. In general, indemnification is a formality because few members of the Merced public have the intestinal fortitude to endure a lawsuit (always accompanied by vilification from public officials, staff and local businessmen).

· You lectured the public who took time off from busy working schedules to come and sincerely tell you their concerns with this project. You use your privileged moment as an opportunity to give them an ideological whipping. You expect us to tolerate political thuggery.

· Mr. Chairman, you are a bully. You are bringing all the contempt for the public in the backroom – from the Planning Department, County Counsel, special interest consultants, supervisors, the offices of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, adjoining your offices – into the board chambers in public session. But the public – concerned, thoughtful, factual – won’t go away just because you choose to trample on the laws and regulations of public process and call the public politically dirty names. The public won’t disappear just because a set of county supervisors chooses to ignore it. The offices you hold and the local land-use authority you have won’t disappear just because you abuse the authority of your office on behalf of special interests rather than in the public interest.

Badlands editorial staff

| »

Public letter in opposition to the Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Nov 14, 2006

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

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

Merced County Board of Supervisors November 14, 2006
2222 M Street
Merced, California 95340
Fax: (209) 726-7977
Ph: (209) 385-7366 Via Hand Delivered and Email

Re: Public hearing on Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

1. Development Plan and Administrative Permit

The Riverside Motorsports Park Development Plan and Administrative Permit are the second stage of project approval following adoption of the Master Plan, as required by Merced County’s Planned Development Zone. When submitted, the Development Plan will include a precise plot plan, elevations, landscaping, lighting and other more detailed plans for development of the entirety of the project. The Development and Administrative Permit implement the goals, vision and requirements of the Master Plan. The Administrative Permit will provide the “entitlement” for the RMP project and include a list of conditions of approval under which the facility will operation. All development will be required to be consistent with the Development Plan and Administrative Permit (as may be amended.)

Modifications to the Development Plan and Administrative Permit may be approved administratively by the Planning Director if determined consistent with the intent of the Master Plan, the RMP EIR, and the procedures and finds defined in Section 18.50.02(D) of the Merced County Zoning Code.

-- P. 7-1, RMP Draft Master Plan

The public finds this “implementation” completely unacceptable. Merced County seems to be following the policy that if a sizeable portion of the supervisors’ constituents oppose a project, the final master plan could include changes so substantial to it that they would nullify the project description of its final EIR will be done administratively, without any further public or even legislative review. How excellent a technique for elected officials to wash their hands of the problems this project will cause their own constituents. “Sorry, we can’t do a thing,” the supervisors will be able to say. “It’s all being decided ‘administratively.’”

So, the “master plan” referred to by the county Planning Commission on Oct. 25, either does not yet exist or has not been made available to the public. For example, under the present “administrative” set up, the proponents and the County could create another Pacific Comtech industrial park in RMP final master plan, approved under an EIR to build a racetrack. It would be a radical violation of the project description, but on the other side of Merced we have the UC Community Plan, which every day looks more like the area where the UC Merced campus expansion will go, instead.

2. Disqualification of some supervisors for voting on the RMP project

Coupled with whatever indemnification agreement the County and RMP has reached (not available to the public), this “implementation” insures that once again the elected supervisors will have shielded themselves from any accountability for their decision. The last handicapping of the board of supervisors’ vote was written by RMP CEO John Condren in a letter to his investors last year:

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

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

Although Foster Farms representatives reported last month being unable to meet with supervisors about their concerns with the project, Condren had apparently met with supervisors nearly two years ago. But the public isn’t as cynical as the RMP boss; we expect surprising acts of good sense from our supervisors.

To begin, it would be a surprising act of good faith if the board disqualified two of its members from voting on the RMP final EIR: Jerry O’Banion and Kathleen Crookham. O’Banion is widely known as having steered the project from the west side to its present location. Crookham gave a promotional talk on the RMP project before the Clipper Club at Central Presbyterian Church. Their involvement with the project ought to disqualify them from voting on it. The appearance of conflict-of-interest mars the deliberations on this extremely important decision in advance.

The board of supervisors needs to recall that it is not required by law to approve a fatally flawed EIR.

3. Airport Land Use Commission decisions

On Oct. 24, the Board of Supervisors voted to override a decision by the Castle Airport Land Use Commission that the RMP project is inconsistent with state Department of Transportation guidelines on projects near airports.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, this “decision” is in fact a project. As presently proposed, it is an unanalyzed and unmitigated segment of the Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP) environmental impact report.

There is a basic flaw in the description of this project and the approval process is being illegally segmented because two parallel, unrelated planning processes are going on.

According to Planning Department staff, the ALUC met last week to reconsider the decision overridden by the board on Oct. 24.

The County has obstructed public access to the airport commission’s decision, although Planning Director Robert Lewis is secretary of the commission. The commission met last week and reached a decision that the public is obstructed from knowing. Apparently, the Planning Department takes the minutes, but they were not available for view on Monday. Therefore, the public, including state and federal agencies, have no chance to analyze the commission’s recommendation. The public does not know if this recommendation requires state and/or federal approval and if that approval is or is not forthcoming, or when it might be. Yet, according to planning department staff, whatever the decision of the ALUC may be, whatever state and federal approval or disapproval it requires, somehow the reduction in size of the noise zone around the airport will appear in the final RMP EIR after the public hearing is closed, at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting.

This project should not go forward until the public and agencies have had a chance to analyze the impacts of the proposed changes at the airport. The FEIR needs to be recirculated, incorporating all documents related to the ALUC recommendation. The airport decision must be treated as a separate project now, because throughout the development of the RMP project, it has been on an unrelated track and cannot be joined at this late date.

According to testimony by the airport manager, the RMP would bring a significant increase in air traffic to the airport. There is no environmental analysis of this significant increase. In fact, there is no environmental or economic analysis of this significant increase. However, in terms of RMP project, it represents a significant, unanalyzed change in the project.

Just because the RMP project cannot go forward without adjustments to the airport noise regulations does not mean that the FEIR and the ALUC decision are part of the same project for planning or bureaucratic purposes. Under CEQA, the needs of the public for access to information and public debate, not the needs of the developer, define the description of the project and proper legal processes in the decision-making.

We submitted the same packet of material to the county Planning Commission on the following day, Oct. 25. We were unable to finish our testimony orally in the time permitted. At the end of the meeting, after the planning commission had made its decision to advise the board to approve the project, our packet was still lying in the basket beside the podium – one more example of the failure of the county to respect and properly consider important information about this project submitted by the public.

4. Immediate issues of public information access

The County has failed to provide the public with a copy of the indemnification agreement between it and RMP. The public has been unable to obtain a copy of the indemnification agreement, therefore the citizens of Merced County do not know what is and what is not indemnified by the developer of this project, who will pay what to whom in case of litigation on a number of possible problems, including fire and police protection, public safety and environmental issues.

The board public hearing on the RMP project was scheduled on the Tuesday following a three-day weekend. Normally, the public would have had access to the staff report for the hearing on Friday. On Friday, the office was closed. But, on Monday, at noon, the public and state and federal resource agencies were unable to get a new staff report, unable to get the ALUC decision, and was not given the opportunity to review the public testimony submitted, the summary report or the minutes of the planning commission hearing. The County is once again obstructing public access to vital information as if the County were above the laws of CEQA and public process.

The County did not make the new staff report to the public (including state and federal agencies) until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the day before the hearing. Nothing could better express the County’s complete contempt for the public and favoritism for special development interests. It also perfectly expresses the County’s lack of respect for law and elemental fairness.

5. Failure to consult federal resource agencies

Canal Creek, along with its associated wetlands and limited tree cover, passes through the northeast corner and to the east of the RMP site. From the project site, Canal Creek flows southwest through Atwater into Black Rascal Creek and eventually into Bear Creek and the San Joaquin River. Canal Creek is a perennial tributary.

Just beyond the northeast boundary is the Castle Dam, a 6,400 acre-foot capacity dry flood control facility operated by the Merced Irrigation District.”

--P. 2-3 Riverside Motorsports Park Draft Master Plan.

This statement, in conjunction with state Department of Fish and Game directive, triggered the necessity of County and proponent consultation with federal resource regulatory agencies. The County and proponents failed to engage in that consultation, fatally damaging the environmental review of the RMP project.

The RMP project lies inside the federal Endangered Species Act critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered species associated with vernal pools. It also lies directly across an endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox migration corridor. The creek running through the project area connects with navigable waters of the US.

However, there is no evidence that – despite the state Department of Fish and Game advise to the County and project proponents – that either the County or proponents ever consulted on these three important federal resource issues, growing more critical in Merced County by the month with the cumulative impacts caused by development induced by UC Merced on valuable eastern Merced County wildlife habitat.

The recent federal court ruling upheld the critical habitat designation. The project area lies well within the US Fish & Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Vernal Pools, and the Service has designated the project area as part of a vital corridor for kit fox east-to-west migration. Until the issue of the connectivity of the creek running through the project site is established by the US Army Corps of Engineers, this project cannot go forward just because the County and proponents have ignored their legal obligations under ESA and the federal Clean Water Act to consult with the federal resource regulatory agencies.

In addition, this project lies within the boundaries of UC Merced and state and federal agencies’ Contiguous Band of Natural Lands and Wildlife-Compatible Farmland that Should Be Maintained. UC Merced regards the existing orchard on the project site as important agricultural land for protection and for the mitigation of take of wildlife habitat. In addition to failing to consult with federal resource regulatory agencies, the Merced County Department of Planning and Community Development failed to consult with the UC Merced Development Planning office.

Merced County, home of UC Merced, is long past the point where it can claim ignorance of federal resource agency jurisdiction over large parts of eastern, as well as western Merced County. The County was notified in September by the state Department of Fish and Game to consult with federal resource agencies.

The RMP project should be re-circulated because the federal agencies were not properly notified by either project proponents, which is understandable, or by the land-use authority, Merced County, which is neither understandable nor legally defensible.

There is no analysis of the impact to species associated with wetlands immediately north of the project at Castle Dam. There is no environmental analysis of the effects of the proposed sound berm on water flowing toward the site.

In the draft EIR, p. 4.4-1 project consultants refer to the Merced Basin Groundwater Management Plan. In fact, the plan does not exist and cannot be used as an authoritative policy document.

6. Failure to do economic analysis on impacts to the Castle Commerce-Aviation & Economic Development area.

A Castle airport manager testified to the planning commission that the RMP project would increase traffic to and from the airport. The RMP final EIR lists 34 significant, unavoidable environmental impacts. The board will have no basis on which to override them but economic. This it will done without any analysis of the economic impacts to the Castle economic development area from being adjacent to a regional auto racing facility subject to periodic traffic jams that, if the track is successful, can only increase in number over time. How will the racetrack economically impact the Castle enterprise with its foreign-trade zone designation, conducive to a number of enterprises that could have provided thousands of jobs fitting the skill level of tens of thousands of Merced’s existing residents? We don’t know and this EIR doesn’t mention the subject. An economic override that lacks any analysis of the economic impacts of the project is not legally compliant.

7. Moratorium until General Plan Update

Planners in Merced County – whether they work for the county planning department, UC Merced, Castle, Merced County Association of Governments or the various cities – have failed to consider the cumulative economic as well as environmental impacts of rapidly sprouting commercial zones, particularly along the Highway 99 corridor. Following on the section above, this is working an economic hardship on plans for the development of Castle, but, overall, it is creating a series of disconnected “anchor tenant” areas, which will induce growth around them. In light of the third failure to pass a sales tax increase to fund road construction and improvement in a county with a general plan so weak and out- of-date it is useless as a planning-guidance tool, these competing commercial zones will soon create traffic-circulation havoc, adding measurably to air pollution, and may produce economic havoc as well. But we don’t know, because there has been no analysis of the economic impacts of chaotic growth in a county with a moribund general plan.

The lack of analysis of cumulative economic and environmental impacts from the chaotic growth in Merced requires the public to demand a moratorium on any more projects not already approved by appropriate local, state and federal agencies. RMP is not approved by the appropriate agencies, therefore the board should not approve it before the county general plan has been fully updated in a legally compliant fashion.

8. Conclusion

The board of supervisors must deny the Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

· an inadequate project description that can be modified at will by administrative decision without public review;
· serious conflicts of interest involving at least two members of the board voting on the project and the applicant’s claims nearly two years ago that he already had a super-majority of supervisors in his pocket;
· segmenting and peacemealing the entirely different project of the override of the Castle Land Use Commission decision, which requires its own EIR;
· deliberate failure of the County to make essential project documents available to the public in a timely manner;
· failure of the land-use authority to perform its mandatory duty to consult federal resource regulatory agencies on the environmental impacts of the proposed project;
· failure to do any analysis on the economic impacts of the proposed project on the Castle Commercial-Aviation Economic Development area;
· failure of the County to do cumulative economic impact studies on the impacts of this proposed project and other commercial, growth-inducing anchor tenants;
· failure of the County to consider the negative impact on the proposed project of the third failure of the transportation tax measure.

Sincerely,

Lydia Miller Steve Burke

Attachments:
TNC Predicted Vernal Pool Taxa
Dept. F&G San Joaquin Kit Fox Approximate Distribution
UC Merced San Joaquin Kit Fox Habitat Map
UC Merced Vernal Pool and Related Wetlands Map
“Supervisors override ban on building near airport,” Merced Sun-Star
Eastern Merced Bird List
US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Upland Species Map
US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Vernal Pool Ecosystems
( hard copy of Service recovery plan and above items delivered by hand along with this letter to the Board of Supervisors at its public hearing, Nov. 14, 2006)

All other attachments submitted electronically:
Eastern Merced Bird List
Silviera Bird List
UC Merced San Joaquin Kit Fox Habitat Map
UC Merced Vernal Pool and Related Wetlands Map
“Supervisors override ban on building near airport,” Merced Sun-Star
RMP articles
BadlandsJournal.com Riverside Motorsports Park CEO Letter to Investors
Vernal Pool Critical Habitat Lawsuit
Pacific Comtec lawsuit petition
Coalition Statement
US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for Upland Species Map
TNC Predicted Vernal Pool Taxa
Dept. F&G San Joaquin Kit Fox Approximate Distribution

Cc: Interested parties
BadlandsJournal

| »


To manage site Login