State Government

Mirage

Submitted: Jul 23, 2006

It’s fitting to speak of mirages when the Valley gets this hot.

The political mirage of the week, in the wake of former Merced County DA Gordon Spenser’s spectacular fall that ended in Bear Creek a week (just before a mysterious fire in the DA department’s offices), was the set-to between developer Greg Hostetler (Ranchwood Homes) and Supervisor Deirdre Kelsey at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, exhaustively detailed below by the local press.

There is nothing like a juicy scandal. However, the whole thing was inevitable and is probably not the biggest political scandal waiting to unfold in Merced County.

All this drama, and the press and political obsession with making it all personal and a matter of integrity and reputation, is a waste of time and nothing but a scintillating diversion from the problem.

When urbanization comes, farming goes. It is a cold-blooded, ruthless process driven by the long-range planning of one small group, developers, and their profit taking. Everything else, including the reputations of particular developers and particular politicians, so engagingly showcased in this case, is a sideshow. Yes, it is flamboyantly Merced that the DA and the sheriff would have been partners in a deal to buy an advantageously placed land parcel from an inmate of the county jail indicted for attempted bribery of a police officer, who ended up serving six months instead of nine years. Yes, the peculiar blend of arrogance, stupidity, greed, and possibly actionable behavior is what we have come to have a perfect “right” to expect from “leadership” in Merced County.

Furthermore, we are not holding our breath in expectation that either Spenser, Pazin, Hostetler or any other members of the Bellevue Partnership (purchasers of the inmate’s land) will ever be indicted for anything, by Attorney General Bill Lockyer or the newly appointed DA, Larry Morse, II. Lockyer’s connections with Merced and Spenser are deep -- for instance, he has appointed two not one but two former Merced law enforcement officials to the top investigative position in the state Department of Justice -- and Morse has his own political career to look after. It is even a question how much further this investigation will go, if any further at all, because of what else might be found and who else, among the county’s “good old boys and girls” would be implicated in backroom land deals.

When the county “leadership” committed itself and the rest of us to becoming home to the University of California, Merced campus, it set in motion a speculative real estate boom that has laws of its own, not all of them legal, if you get the distinction.

There used to be another such informal law, in politics, that was pretty widely observed between the end of WWII and the election of Ronald Reagan as governor, and even the Reagan people mostly observed it. The idea was that the people would accept an ambition for political power and they will accept an ambition to get rich, but they will not – at least would not – accept an ambition for both in the same politician. The combination was felt to violate the public taste, which can lead to disasters now befalling Spenser and perhaps others soon to follow here in Merced County.

Another informal law from that bygone epoch was that an office holder was expected to be able to drink with people attempting to influence his vote, accept their political contributions and even their prostitutes, and vote against them the next morning.

Today, it is nauseatingly obvious here in the big speculative land boom that the loyalty of local, state and federal legislators representing Merced County has been sold to developers. You see it week after week in local land-use decision after decision, at the state level in the new Valley partnership for growth, and in Congress Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has introduced three bills in three years tailor-made to streamline the sale of farm and ranchland to developers and urbanize this area over the dead body of the Endangered Species Act and the species it is designed to try to protect.

All the protestations of personal insult, damage to reputation, even allegations of danger to a supervisor in the board chambers (because Hostetler called her out on her own profound conflicts of interest), are nothing but a Punch and Judy show. Anyone who has ever articulately opposed a board of supervisors’ or city council’s position in Merced County has received worse abuse from supervisors and council members than Kelsey received from Hostetler. One recalls grimly, former Supervisor Cortez-Keene’s McCarthyite interrogations, for example. More recently, board chairman Mike Nelson’s nasty response to any criticism and supervisor John Pedrozo’s belligerence toward it are equally fondly recalled. So, the public doesn’t buy Kelsey’s political vapors anymore than it buys Spenser’s memory loss.

The law in Merced County is that the most aggressive developer wins, period, whether it’s done crudely, as the scofflaw Hostetler does it, or more smoothly as larger, richer competitors of Ranchwood Homes do it, or with the elegant disdain of UC Merced, which steadfastly denies it is a developer at all while being the largest developer in the county. What is called “planning” in the county amounts to accommodation to development. Political competence consists of making sure developers agree to pay all legal expenses the county might incur as the result of lawsuits arising from their land-use decisions, which frequently violate aspects of the California Environmental Quality Act and laws of public process.

“Planning” in the county is a complete joke. The county has not updated its General Plan since before UC Merced was even contemplated and has chosen the route of simply amending it whenever necessary. It’s present face reminds one of members of Davy Jones’ crew in Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, with the university launched and the speculative boom gyrating out of control, local land-use jurisdictions are planning new general plan and community plan updates here, there and everywhere.

Even this tardy diligence is grudging and is planned to take about as long – as best it can be guessed – as the boom itself continues to its bust. The best thing for the public interest that could be done is to have a building moratorium while these updates, particularly the county general plan, are being done. When confronted with a public statement, signed by a coalition 15 local and regional groups, urging a moratorium, the supervisors voted for business as usual.

Whose interests do they represent?

Bill Hatch
-------------------------
Notes:

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.

The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.
We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

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
MISSION STATEMENT

Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.
P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341
--------------

Merced DA under fire for 2004 land deal
He, 7 other investors made deal with a man facing bribery charge
By Chris Collins
Merced Sun-Star

Last Updated: July 9, 2006, 05:20:05 AM PDT
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the district attorney's office.

The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer's potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry in December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator.
The attorney general now is looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler and five other prominent locals bought in 2004.

The owner of the farmland, former Merced College police chief Richard Byrd, was arrested in March 2004 for bribing a sheriff's deputy. His bail was set at $500,000.

Byrd said his imprisonment forced his security company to go out of business and prompted his daughter to sell his land to help pay for attorney fees and other expenses.

Prosecutors in Spencer's office were working on a plea deal with Byrd in May 2004 when Spencer and the other investors pitched their offer to buy the land, according to public records and property sale documents Byrd provided.

Investors close deal

The investors, organized under the Campodonica Trust led by Merced real estate agent Carl Campodonica, closed the $1.3 million deal on the land July1, 2004. Byrd was released from jail 15 days later.
Frank Dougherty, the Merced County Superior Court presiding judge, said he has looked into the case and found that Spencer was "intimately involved" in pressing felony charges against Byrd.

It also is clear from property sale records that Spencer knew he was buying land from the man he was prosecuting. One document shows Spencer's and Pazin's signatures next to Byrd's name.
When the purchase went through two years ago, it drew little attention. But concerns about the deal have resurfaced in the wake of multiple investigations launched by state and local agencies examining Spencer's use of grant funds and county dollars.

The attorney general's investigation of the land deal could lead to extortion charges against Spencer.
Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor who specializes in white-collar crime, said Spencer's decision to pursue the land deal while prosecuting Byrd was "unbelievably bad."

"If the district attorney said to the defendant, 'I'm going to charge you with crime X, but if you reduce the price on your land, I'll give you a better deal,' then, boy, you could talk about extortion," Weisberg said.
Byrd said he never was approached by anyone from the district attorney's office while he was in jail. But he said he originally was told through his lawyer that he was facing nine years in state prison.

Byrd gets sentence reduced

After Byrd's daughter accepted the Campodonica Trust's offer to buy the land, Byrd was offered a plea deal that reduced his sentence to six months of county jail time.

Byrd also said he wonders why his $500,000 bail never was reduced.

Spencer did not return calls last week seeking comment. His Merced attorney, Terry Allen, said the attorney general's investigation is based only on "speculation."

"I assure you Byrd wasn't coerced into doing anything and Gordon wasn't doing anything to gain some advantage over him," Allen said.

Most of the other seven investors who were part of the Campodonica Trust either didn't return calls or said they didn't want to comment.

Hostetler, a local developer, said he joined the investment group at the last minute to help provide a little extra money needed to seal the deal. He said he didn't know Byrd was the seller.

Sheriff regrets joining group

The attorney general's office won't acknowledge it's investigating the land deal, but Pazin and Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse II said two investigators and a deputy attorney general have interviewed them as witnesses about the property purchase.

Pazin said that, at the behest of Dougherty, he sent a letter to the attorney general a few weeks ago asking his office to look into the land deal.

The sheriff said that when he joined the Campodonica Trust he didn't see a problem with entering the land deal. But he said he now regrets joining the investors.

Pazin said he didn't realize he was buying land from Byrd, who was in the custody of the Sheriff's Department at the time, until the final stages of the deal.

"Is there anything neglectful that I did? The answer is no," Pazin said.

"But is there a perception issue? Yes. And I accept that."

News that Spencer bought the land from a man he was prosecuting has roiled some county supervisors.
"The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish," Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said.

"I'm surprised that a transaction like that would occur."
----------------------

7-19-06
Merced Sun-Star
Land deal rhetoric flares up...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12471197p-13189784c.html
Tension about recent press coverage of former District Attorney Gordon Spencer's land deal with Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and other prominent locals boiled over at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday when Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler harshly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey. Hostetler is one of the investors who bought land from a man while he was in jail being prosecuted by Spencer. During the meeting's public comment period, Hostetler leaned over the podium and read a statement that first refuted information in the Sun-Star story, then accused Kelsey of making "uncalled for comments." Hostetler said a Merced County civil grand jury investigation into Kelsey's family mining business five years ago left Kelsey in no position to pass judgment on others. This isn't the first time Hostetler and Kelsey have clashed. In March a voicemail message reportedly left by Hostetler was posted on the Web site Badlands Journal. In the message Hostetler accused Kelsey of using county staff members as her "personal pit bulls" to attack his employees.
-------------------------

Kelsey fires back in strongly worded letter to chairman
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12481759p-13199319c.html
By Leslie Albrecht
LALBRECHT@MERCEDSUN-STAR.COM
July 21, 2006

The fire of controversy ignited when developer Greg Hostetler publicly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey is heating up.

Kelsey fanned the flames with a letter to board chairman Mike Nelson saying that she felt afraid for her safety when Hostetler read a statement about her during the public comment period at Tuesday's supervisors meeting.

"I am extremely disappointed that NO ONE intervened appropriately to stop the personal attack coming at me from the podium," Kelsey wrote in her letter to Nelson.

Kelsey's letter also says Hostetler used the "county forum as a means to personally attack me and my family."

Hostetler called Kelsey's letter a "mischaracterization" of what happened at the meeting.

"It would be my opinion that Deidre has overreacted, is acting childish, and is spinning the truth," said Hostetler.

He called for Kelsey to resign immediately because of the findings of a 2001-2002 Merced County civil grand jury report that investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company.

Hostetler's comments at the Tuesday meeting were a response to a Sun-Star article about a land deal Hostetler made with former District Attorney Gordon Spencer, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, and other prominent locals.

Hostetler, Spencer, Pazin and others bought the land from a man who was in jail awaiting prosecution by Spencer. The State Attorney General's office is investigating the deal.

Kelsey was quoted in the article saying, "The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish."

At Tuesday's meeting Hostetler called Kelsey's comments "inflammatory and unprofessional."

He held up a copy of the 2001-2002 grand jury report -- which investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company -- and said that Kelsey had engaged in "unethical conduct."

The jury's report accused Kelsey of having a conflict of interest involving her family's mining business. Kelsey told the Sun-Star in 2002 that the report was the work of "a good-old-boy network" upset because she did not bow to economic special interests.

Kelsey said Nelson, as chairman of the meeting, should have stopped Hostetler's speech because he was harassing and haranguing her and "looking with hostility directly at me" and "leaning forward towards the dais."

"I demand to be provided with a safe workplace and I believe the law provides for the safety of elected officials while engaged in county business," the letter said.

Kelsey's letter asks that "this issue be resolved either through some action of (Nelson's) or through the collective actions of the Board policy immediately."

Nelson met with County Counsel Ruben Castillo on Thursday and asked him to provide a legal opinion about whether the supervisors can restrict public comment.

A state law called the Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings, said Castillo, so any county policy would have to be in line with that law.

"I have a constitutional right to speak at a public forum," said Hostetler. "The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech.

"I will not be silenced. I live in America, not in Baghdad."

Nelson's seat on the supervisors' dais has a button that controls the microphone on the public podium. He said his role as chairman is to turn the mic off if a member of the public becomes disruptive.

"If I thought any member of the public was getting out of hand I would have asked for the sheriff to step in, but that wasn't the case," said Nelson.

Kelsey also faulted Sheriff Pazin and Undersheriff Bill Blake -- who were both in the audience during Hostetler's comments -- for not intervening during Hostetler's speech.

But Blake said he and the sheriff attend supervisors' meetings as participants, not police.

"I don't know what she wants us to do," said Blake. "I can't arrest him for being mean to the Board of Supervisors."

He added, "He didn't swear, he didn't threaten, he didn't yell ... I can't get up and say 'Greg you're breaking the law', because he's not. In fact, I would be afraid that a civil libertarian would think I was infringing under color of law on his free speech."

Kelsey said Hostetler's comments at the meeting caught her totally off-guard.

The meeting's original agenda included a ceremony where Kelsey was to receive a pin honoring her 10 years of service on the board, but the ceremony was postponed.

Instead, Kelsey found herself on the receiving end of Hostetler's criticism.

She said all elected officials can expect criticism, but Hostetler chose the wrong setting.

"That's the elbows and knees aspect of being in politics," said Kelsey. "However, in a public meeting doing county business is a different matter.

"There's a different set of expectations when I'm out and about in the community than when I'm sitting as a supervisor on the dais."

Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at 385-2484 or lalbrecht@mercedsun-star.com.

Controlling speech at meetings and the Brown Act

A state law called the Ralph M. Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings. The California First Amendment Coalition's Web Site includes this question and answer about limits on public comments.

Q: How far can an elected body go in controlling what speakers say in their comments?

A: In creating an opportunity for citizens to address a legislative body, the Legislature has created what is described in First Amendment jurisprudence as a limited public forum.

It is limited in the sense that speakers may be held to subject matter relevant to the meeting (or at least the agency's role) and may also be restricted by reasonable rules of time limitation and good order.

But, concluded the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the First Amendment would not permit officials presiding in a public forum of even this limited scope to outlaw comment simply on the basis of its being offensive -- "personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane."

What they may do is react to actual disruption, which in the context of a government meeting can mean simply wasting time to the detriment of all others present.

Board of Supervisors transcript

To view or listen to the meeting, check the Board of Supervisors Web site: web.co.merced.ca.us/bos/archive.html

HOSTETLER: Good morning, everyone. My name is Greg Hostetler, 2000 M Street, Merced, California.
I am here today because of my concerns about recent events. I would like to say several things this board and public should know.

I am speaking for myself and not the Bellevue Partnership.

The real estate transaction involving Sheriff Mark Pazin and District Attorney Gordon Spencer was negotiated, signed and agreed to between two business professionals and the seller Mr. Byrd and his daughter.

Neither Mr. Spencer and Mr. Pazin had any negotiations as to the price, terms, and conditions of the purchase from Mr. Byrd. If anyone of the Board of Supervisors would like to see the contract I would be more than happy to show you.

I believe that the purchase contract was professional and ethical.

The property was listed with a Merced real estate company and placed on the MLS, Multiple Listing Service, for approximately 30 days or longer for all members to sell, which is around 700 sales people in the Merced area.

One offer was received for $1.1 million from a potential buyer. The seller countered, Mr. Byrd, with a $1.4 million counter offer. The counter offer was declined by the buyer.

The next offer was received for $1.3 million was presented to Mr. Byrd by two Merced professionals, and it was accepted by Mr. Byrd. Subsequently portions of the buyer's interest were sold to other individuals in Merced, including the sheriff, including myself and a number of other partners and the district attorney. Because the seller wanted an all-cash transaction at $61,000 an acre, which is in the county. The property adjacent to it, two months earlier, sold for approximately $36,000 an acre. It has been reported that the land was annexed and rezoned. That is incorrect.

Several local investors and business professionals felt it was not a good enough investment so they declined to purchase a share.

I think hypothetical comments without the facts about the transaction are uncalled for such as those made by Stanford law professor and comments made by Deidre Kelsey.

They are inflammatory, unprofessional, and do not show the leadership qualities this county needs.

I think Deidre Kelsey's conduct is unethical on a number of issues. One being the operation of the mine of the Kelsey property in Snelling which has been the subject of a former grand jury investigation and it was reported that it had been operated for at least six years and failed to pay county road taxes ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler ...

HOSTETLER: ... and operating in a fishing business without county ordinance permitted ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler.

HOSTETLER: Yes.

NELSON: I would ask you to confine your comments to not attacks on board members please.

HOSTETLER: It's open public I can talk about the grand jury investigation ....

NELSON: I understand that ...

HOSTETLER: ... and I'm going to talk about it.

NELSON: Well you have a minute and four seconds.

HOSTETLER: That's fine. And I understand that. There's an ongoing investigation I understand to the operation of the mining there now and hopefully it will not go unenforced like the last time according to the grand jury report. Thank you.

(Kelsey left the chamber during Hostetler's comments. After Hostetler was done, she returned and sat down.)

KELSEY: If people bring things up that pertain to myself or my family in this forum I will recuse myself from the public forum at that time. And you can see I did leave and I have now come back.

(At the end of the meeting, each supervisor makes a report. Nelson's included the following comments.)

NELSON: I have nothing to report necessarily, but I did want to say, you know we always welcome people to come make comments during public opportunity to speak, but it's nice when people don't make personal attacks. It's just not, really, it's just not appropriate. That's all I have to say.
----------------------

DA still in hospital
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439963p-13161488c.html
By Scott Jason
SJASON@MERCEDSUN-STAR.COM
Last Updated: July 13, 2006, 01:38:01 AM PDT

The Merced County district attorney remained in the hospital Tuesday night with short-term memory loss after a rollover crash Monday night, his attorney said.

Terry Allen, Gordon Spencer's attorney, said he called Spencer as a friend to check his condition.

"He can't remember anything from two to three days ago," Allen said, adding Spencer can't recall the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Spencer was taken by his wife to Mercy Medical Center Merced after the wreck. He could not be reached for comment.

The California Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation into the crash, though it doesn't look like any charges or citations will be filed, Public Information Officer Shane Ferriera said.

The district attorney, who was wearing a seat belt, was driving alone on South East Bear Creek Drive at about 5 p.m., Ferriera said.

Spencer was a mile east of McKee Road when he apparently didn't follow a left curve and plunged his truck into the creek.

He did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Ferriera said.

A 35 mph sign is posted just before the turn. The CHP is not sure if Spencer was speeding, Ferriera said.

A man who lives near the crash site, Dan Smith, and his two children found Spencer and helped him call his wife. Assisting people who drive their cars into the creek is nothing new, Smith said.

"We treated him and did for him what we've done for a dozen other people," Smith said.

Smith's 9- and 12-year-old sons were tubing down the creek when they found Spencer's truck upside down at 5:30 p.m. Only the wheels and undercarriage were visible above the water.

They told their dad, who thought the truck was abandoned because people have stolen cars, stripped them and dumped them in the creek, he said.

When the two boys went back to get the Ford F-150's license plate number, they saw Spencer waist-high in the creek leaning against the bank.

Smith's 12-year-old son asked if Spencer needed help, and said the district attorney mumbled he didn't.

The son went home and told his dad there was a man in the creek.

After seeing the kids, Spencer crossed the creek and started walking toward Smith's home, about a quarter-mile from the crash, Smith said.

Spencer, wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, told Smith he was OK, and that he was driving, missed a turn and wrecked his truck.

There weren't any signs the district attorney was drinking or under the influence of drugs, Smith said.
"He acted like someone who had been in an eye-opening wreck," he said.

Smith recognized Spencer as the district attorney and brought him to his house to make a call.

"He was fine and talking with no apparent injuries, except an abrasion on his face from an air bag," Smith said.
Spencer called his wife from Smith's phone, and she took him to the hospital at about 6:30 p.m. She reported the crash to the CHP at 8:10 p.m., Ferriera said.

Leaving the scene and seeking treatment, as Spencer did, is not uncommon in single-vehicle wrecks with minor injuries, Ferriera said.

"It's not like it was a hit-and-run," he said.

The investigating officer interviewed Spencer at the hospital and tested him for driving under the influence.

Ferriera said the test includes looking for the smell of alcohol, slurred speech or red, watery eyes.

Ferriera said he did not know if Spencer was given a breathalyzer test.

The Merced County Sheriff's dive team checked the truck to make sure there weren't any other people in it. After 11 p.m., tow trucks removed Spencer's truck from the creek.

Timeline of the wreck

5 p.m. -- District Attorney Gordon Spencer rolls his Ford F-150 truck into Bear Creek.
5:30 p.m. -- A neighbor and his kids find Spencer and let him use their phone to call his wife.
6:30 p.m. -- Spencer's wife picks him up and takes the district attorney to Mercy Medical Center Merced.
8:10 p.m. -- California Highway Patrol officers are called about Spencer's crash. The investigating officer goes to the hospital to interview Spencer and test him for driving under the influence.
11:15 p.m. -- Tow trucks remove Spencer's pickup from the creek.

| »

Saving the edges of the Central Valley

Submitted: Jul 05, 2006

Throughout the borders of the Central Valley where cattle graze, although the great fields of vernal pools in pasturelands are being illegally taken, individuals and groups are finding positive ways to work together to try to stop the destruction of this unique ecology, home to a number of endangered and threatened species, essential for groundwater storage, open space that does not contribute to air pollution, and productive cattle land.

We include a several pieces:

"Easy on the land," by Glen Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, July 2, 2006;

The California Rangeland Resolution, an unprecedented agreement among local ranchers and their industry groups, farmers and their industry groups, state and federal resources agencies and local, state and national environmental groups, that this land must be saved. There is even one local land-use authority, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors;

A US Fish & Wildlife Service white paper, “Wetlands Creation in existing vernal pool landscapes.”

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

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/07/02/MNGOQJO6P41.DTL

EASY ON THE LAND
Ranchers and farmers, spurred by the growing market for natural foods, are finding a silver lining in the conservation cloud
Glen Martin, Chronicle Environment Writer

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Darrell Wood drove slowly across his land near Chico, a battered cowboy hat pulled down over his forehead, his eyes darting back and forth as he sized up the Black Angus cattle grazing nearby. In the back of his truck, three border collies stood at attention, ready to work.

The cattle looked in prime shape as they stood in lush pasturage dotted with sapphire vernal pools. Large flocks of northern pintails dabbled in the water, while white-tailed kites hovered overhead and red-winged blackbirds called from the sedges along the pools.

"This ecosystem is like anything else," said Wood, gesturing across the gently rolling plain that stretches all the way to the foothills of the Sierra. "Properly managed, it flourishes. Improperly managed, things start falling apart. We're doing everything we can to manage it properly."

Not too many years ago, that kind of talk might have sounded strange coming from a cattleman. But Wood represents a new breed of rancher. He and hundreds of other ranchers and farmers in California and across the nation are part of a growing private initiative that "embeds" wildlife habitat into the working agricultural landscape.

The trend is driven more by market incentives than bunny-hugging sentiments: The natural and organic food business is now a multibillion-dollar industry. But farmers and ranchers who produce for this market find they also have the opportunity to improve or create wildlife habitat on their land.

Adding to the incentive for wildlife-friendly agriculture are conservation easements -- essentially, cash payouts by government agencies or private conservancies in voluntary exchange for future development rights. The trend for such easements is bullish. In the last 20 years, about 260,000 acres of land have been protected in California through conservation easements --Â with 85 percent of that land set aside in the last decade.

Increasingly, environmentalists see easements and similar management tools -- and the ranchers like Wood who utilize them -- as key elements in 21st century conservation efforts.

"To a large degree, our society has become reluctant to fund large-scale national park and wildlife refuge acquisitions," said Dawit Zeleke, the Central Valley eco-regional director for the Nature Conservancy's California program.

Wood and his family own 10,000 acres and lease 100,000 acres from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management near the Lassen County town of Susanville, which they use as summer pasturage for their stock. They also own 2,700 acres and lease 10,000 acres from the Nature Conservancy on the Vina Plains near Highway 99 between Red Bluff in Tehama County and Chico in Butte County.

The area is considered a top priority by environmentalists because of its vernal pools -- seasonal wetlands that support several native plants and animals. The conservancy requires ranchers to pay fair market value for leased land. In the Vina Plains area, that averages about $12 an acre, said a spokeswoman for the California Cattlemen's Association.

Wood said he manages his stock to mimic the way tule elk once grazed the land.

"We allow the cattle to graze very intensively for short periods, then move them off," he said. "When the elk came through, they did essentially the same thing -- they ate everything and moved on. That keeps all the indigenous vegetation in the system. It's adapted to that kind of cycle."

When the land was managed more traditionally -- with cattle allowed to graze moderately, rotated off when the grass got shorter and moved back on when the grass grew back -- the vernal pool ecosystems suffered, Wood said: Noxious nonnative plant species, such as yellow star thistle and Medusa head, took over.

Wood's family has been ranching in Northern California since the 1860s, but in recent years he found it tough making a profit by raising and selling his cattle in the standard ways.

"Several years ago, cattle prices were at all-time lows, and I didn't know if we were going to survive," he said. "A guy approached me and asked if I was interested in raising natural grass-fed beef -- no hormones, no grain or antibiotics. I went for it. Right from the start, we got better prices than we did for standard beef."

The natural beef business has steadily expanded since 2000, and Wood's production has grown with it. He has enlisted neighboring ranchers into his operation, and the partnership now ships 130 to 160 cattle weekly, mostly to Whole Foods Markets and Trader Joe's, but also to several restaurants.

While Wood allowed he isn't getting rich, the future looks brighter than it has in some time. But if you're going to make it with natural beef, he said, profits must come from conservation easements and grants as well as cattle sales.

In addition to the Vina Plains programs, Wood's family is restoring wetlands, riparian corridors and upland sage-hen habitat on their property in Susanville, east of Mount Lassen, with funding from the National Resource Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmentalists have long criticized the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service for allowing excessive livestock grazing on federal lands. But grazing levels are about a third of what they were in the 1950s, said Ralph Mauck, a rangeland management specialist for the bureau's Eagle Lake district office, which manages about 1 million acres of rangeland near Susanville.

The district allows about 9,000 cattle and 5,000 sheep on its range, and ranchers are paying the district assessments of about $85,000 this year, Mauck said. Federal wildlife habitat can be improved by improving cattle range, he added.

"If it's done right, when you do one, you do the other," Mauck said. He said his agency is emphasizing management policies that incorporate wildlife values -- fencing off sensitive habitat areas, reseeding range to native plants and protecting riparian zones.

While ranching naturally lends itself to habitat restoration because the landscape is left more or less intact, intensive farming -- the cultivation of grains, vegetables or fruit -- is another matter.

To grow these crops, the face of the land must be changed radically, and usually little room is left for critters. In California's Sacramento Valley, there is one exception to this broad rule: rice lands. They can provide vast expanses of prime seasonal habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and raptors. Environmental impacts can be further reduced by growing the grain organically, or with minimal fertilizer and pesticide applications.

Lundberg Family Farms in Butte County has been a prime mover in the promotion of eco-friendly rice farming. The company and its contract growers cultivate about 12,000 acres of rice around the crossroads hamlet of Richvale, and markets a wide array of products, from organic brown rice to rice cakes, rice syrup, rice chips and rice milk.

The Lundbergs don't have any acres in true conservation easements, said the company's board chairwoman, Jessica Lundberg, but they participate in a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative known as the conservation security program. Under the program, farmers are paid an incentive to maintain and improve environmental soil and water standards on their lands over a 10-year period.

The Lundbergs enrolled 3,500 acres, comprising their core family holdings, into the program and received $45,000.

The enterprise's patriarch, Albert Lundberg, came to California with his wife, Frances, in 1937, having fled the dust bowl in Nebraska, said CEO Grant Lundberg, the grandson of the founders.

"The complete environmental collapse they witnessed in the Midwest was due mainly to terrible farming practices, and it made a tremendous impression on them," he said. "When they came out here, they were determined to improve the condition of the land, not degrade it."

The Lundbergs were at the forefront of organic grain production in California, obtaining certification for organic rice production in 1980. Today, about 9,000 acres of rice land under the family's control is certified, with the remainder managed for "natural" rice produced with minimal pesticides and artificial fertilizer.

Organic and natural rice fetch higher prices than standard rice. Another attraction, Jessica Lundberg said, is that the land fares better under organic production. The regular use of cover crops for fertilizer improves the tilth and net fertility of the soil, she said, and shunning chemicals and artificial fertilizers saves money -- and is a boon to wild creatures.

During a recent tour of the Lundberg fields, wildlife was omnipresent. Pheasants burst from ditch side coverts, and scores of ducks and shorebirds foraged in the soggy fields.

The Lundbergs also pioneered post-harvest field flooding. Throughout most of the last century, Sacramento Valley rice farmers burned their rice stubble after harvest to dispose of the straw and reduce disease pathogens. But the family always felt flooding was a better way, said Jessica Lundberg.

Such "decomp" rice flooding is now standard for the industry. It wasn't wildlife concerns that drove the trend -- rather, stringent air quality standards in the 1980s and 1990s required an alternative to stubble burning. But birds and other wildlife have been major beneficiaries of the practice.

"It attracts all the ducks and geese that over-winter in the valley," she said. "They eat the waste rice, trample the stubble down, incorporate it into the soil where it degrades. That gets rid of the straw and increases the volume of organic matter in our soil -- makes it richer and healthier."

The Sacramento Valley's flooded rice fields now amount to hundreds of thousands of acres of seasonal wetlands, said Greg Mensik, the deputy refuge manager for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which administers six refuges in the Sacramento Valley.

Zeleke of the Nature Conservancy said educating American city dwellers about private conservation efforts will be the next great challenge for the movement.

"As the population becomes more and more urbanized, people lose touch with the essential qualities of sustainable, wildlife-friendly ranching and farming," he said. "But I think we'll see increased public access to these properties -- guided tours, fishing and camping, maybe even some new variations of the classic dude ranch. We have to get people out there so they can understand the stakes."
-------------------

The California Rangeland Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

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

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

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

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

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

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD
Alameda County Board of Supervisors
American Land Conservancy
California Cattlemen’s Association
California Resources Agency
California Wildlife Foundation
Central Valley Land Trust Council
Bureau Land Management
Defenders of Wildlife
Butte Environmental Council
Environmental Defense
California Audubon Society
Institute for Ecological Health
California Cattlemen’s Association
Natural Resources Conservation Service
California Dept of Fish and Game
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
California Dept of Food and Ag
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
California Farm Bureau Federation
Sierra Foothills Audubon Society
California Native Grasslands Association
The Nature Conservancy
California Native Plant Society
Trust for Public Land
California Oak Foundation
US Fish and Wildlife Service
California Rangeland Trust
US Forest Service
California Resource Conservation Districts
VernalPools.org
Wildlife Conservation Board
----------------

US Fish & Wildlife Service white paper

Wetlands Creation in existing vernal pool landscapes
04/02/2006

For the past couple of years (and probably before) we have been reviewing
and accepting the creation of vernal pool features/wetlands within existing
vernal pool landscapes as a means to address the no net loss of wetlands
policy. Specifically I am talking about the practice of creating vernal
pools in existing vernal pool landscapes where none occurred previously (as
opposed to restoring or re-creating vernal pools where it can be determined
they did occur previously). Each time we are asked to accept this practice
we have difficulty determining that this mechanical ground disturbing
activity does not significantly affect the function and value of existing
vernal pools landscapes (uplands as well as wetlands) and also result in
adverse impacts to listed species like plants, salamanders and shrimp.
Each time I see another one of these creation proposals, the densities go
up and the project seems more like the creation of a Frankenstein type
creature than "enhancing" or complimenting the processes of a natural and
dynamic ecosystem

The only compelling reason I can see for these types of creation proposals
are that this is the most cost effective approach for the regulated
community. That is, credit can be given for preserving existing vernal
pools (which are difficult and costly to develop on in the first place) and
creation can be accomplished without purchasing additional ground.

I can see no real biological benefits of this approach that do not outweigh
the impacts, nor do I see any credible scientific evidence that this is an
appropriate approach for vernal pool conservation. In fact the more and
more we analyze and discuss this issue in the scientific and academic
community, the more and more evidence is presented that we are likely
causing great harm to an existing functioning landscape. Impacts to upland
components/habitat for listed plants, pollinators, salamanders and kit fox,
hydrology, water chemistry, microclimate, etc are just a few of the impacts
that have been brought to my attention.

I know there will continue to be great debate about the pros and cons of
this practice, and we should continue have this discussion in the
academic/scientific community. It is just getting very difficult to have
this debate in the regulatory process.

Thus, my thoughts for the day. We are reviewing several of these types of
actions in the office now and we will continue to work with the proponents
to minimize the impacts to listed species and if necessary to suggest the
appropriate compensation to avoid significant impacts and likely have to
prepare additional biological opinions on the proposals.

However, in the future, my strong recommendation is to look for
restoration/creation sites that are not within existing vernal pool
landscapes. There are numerous areas where vernal pools have been lost or
impacted due to agricultural or other practices that are prime candidates
for creation/restoration. If we are asked to evaluate the creation of new
vernal pools in existing landscapes that have impacts to listed species it
will be very difficult to justify these proposals on biological grounds
without out considerable analysis of effects to uplands, wetlands,
hydrology, etc. Please, consider looking away from existing vernal pools
for your creation component. thanks

Ken Sanchez
Assistant Field Supervisor
Endangered Species
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office
2800 Cottage Way-Suite W-2605
Sacramento, CA 95825
(916) 414-6671

| »

Notes on random evidence of the people's voice

Submitted: Jun 08, 2006

Several rapidly growing counties, including Merced, put sales-tax increases on their ballots in the June 6 election earmarked for transportation improvements. Costly mailers, paid for by developers, road construction companies and their unions, explained to the voters that without this "self-help" fund emanating from the county, CalTrans would not be likely to fund their projects. The voters seemed to ask why development doesn't pay for itself. (1)

In Humboldt County, voters passed a measure to prohibit outside special interest contributions to local political campaigns. Humboldt's forests are largely held by outside corporations, the largest and most belligerent being Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Co., which recently funded a recall campaign against newly elected DA Paul Gallegos, who had the gall to sue the lumber company for back taxes. Gallegos also won reelection. (2)

In Mendocino County, a supervisor who claims to be impeccably green but recently closed down a mill to develop it on the outskirts of Willits, lost to John Pinches. Hal Wagonet, the loser, narrowly defeated Pinches in the last election. Pinches' margin of victory was greatly aided by local citizens against Wagonet's development plans. (3)

In Placer County, rapidly developing Lincoln-based Supervisor Robert Wagonet beat back a challenge funded by the Tsakopoulos family, irritated that he had held to proper planning processes on a Tsakopoulos development in his district that would have featured at its center a "world-class university." (4)

Former Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Oakland, won the primary for Oakland mayor (to replace Jerry Brown). Alameda County is having to hand count its ballots so it is not yet certain whether Dellums will have to face a runoff election in November. Dellums took courageous stands on national defense spending and on the right of Palestinians to exist. (5)

Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy received 62 percent of the Republican vote in the 11th congressional district against former Rep. Pete McCloskey's 32 percent. McCloskey came, as a former Marine officer and lawyer, to defend the Constitution against the one-party, far-rightwing that has advanced Pombo so rapidly in the House. He came from out of the district as a co-author of the Endangered Species Act and several other key environmental laws, and as co-founder of Earth Day, to cause Pombo, co-author of the gut-the-ESA bill now stalled in the US Senate, as much political harm as possible. McCloskey came to do battle with Pombo as a Republican, to save the soul of the Republican Party.

It is doubtful McCloskey knew much more about the real estate manias of San Joaquin County, the basis of the power of Pombo and his extensive Pombo family clan of ranch realtors, than does Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, House Minority Leader, who backed the loser in the Democratic Party primary. The core of the district, San Joaquin County, is mysterious to Bay Area types. But Pombo needed 70 percent to scare away big Democratic Party money. If the Democrats can bring themselves to back the winner of their primary, Jerry McNerney, and run a decent voter registration drive, the could continue wounding Pombo and possibly beat him.

However, there is a sense Democratic Party treachery may be afoot in poor old San Joaquin County. The Democrats may be keeping their money for a state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, campaign for Congress in two years. Meanwhile, if one follows the Delta press, it appears that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Pelosi, both San Franciscans, are too chummy with Pombo by far. (6) (7)

Oakland Mayor and former Gov. Jerry Brown walked away with the Democratic Party nomination for attorney general. State Senator Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno, his opponent, threatens a harsh campaign on Brown's record. Fresno doesn't like it that Brown marched with Cesar Chavez and created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. So what, Chuck? (8)

With an infusion of $8.6 million from the Tsakopoulos family, state Treasurer Phil Angelides defeated state Controller Steve Westly, a Silicon Valley magnate who funded his own campaign. Angelides, a former Sacramento developer and protege of Angelo Tsakopoulos, has also been a long-time Democratic Party funder and has served as state chairman of the party. His knowledge of Wall Street, through investment of billions in state retirement funds and his involvement in the many billions in bonds by which the state now finances itself -- because development doesn't pay its way -- may be an asset for the state government. Whether that expertise translates into assets for the state's people is a mystery. We think it is unlikely that the Tsakopoulos family will not receive some benefit for their generosity in the primary campaign. (9)

Voter turnout was generally, wretchedly low. Arnold the Hun was voted in on a "progressive reform" platform, a purely nostalgic confection of the public relations profession aimed at conjuring up images of Hiram Johnson and Teddy Roosevelt in the Age of Bush, Tom the Hammer, Pombo, Cunningham and Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project. Yet, the feeling for reform is genuine in the populace, if only it can sort out the flak to get to its best shot for a little bit of it. The people might conclude that Angelides serves too many masters. At least with the Hun, you know he serves only one master.

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

Notes:

(1) Measure A: Road fixes to take longer

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12289754p-13025572c.html

By Leslie Albrecht
Last Updated: June 8, 2006, 01:58:29 AM PDT

… "It's devastating," said District 2 Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, who starred in television ads promoting Measure A, the half-cent sales tax that would have raised $446 million for transportation projects throughout the county.

The initiative fell 795 votes short of achieving the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, leaving Merced County leaders disappointed and wondering what kept voters home.

A May 19 poll showed 71 percent support for the initiative, but those numbers failed to materialize on Tuesday.

It wasn't only in Merced.

Transportation tax initiatives in Monterey, Solano and Napa counties all went down in flames. (Merced's fared the best -- Monterey's measure got 56 percent, Napa's got 52 percent, and Solano's got 45 percent.)

A few anti-tax groups campaigned against the Solano and Napa measures, but Merced's saw no organized opposition except for some fliers inserted into newspapers two days prior to the election.

"The fact that we lost millions and millions of dollars by just a few percentage points is just unbelievable," said Crookham. "It was local people who made the decisions about which projects it would fund.

"Why they didn't go to the polls and vote for what they wanted just leaves me baffled" ...
------------------------------------

(2)
http://www.eurekareporter.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?ArticleID=11963

Measure T passes with 55 percent majority
by Rebecca S. Bender, 6/7/2006

Humboldt County sent a message to out-of-area corporations looking to throw their weight around in local elections Tuesday night: Go away.

Measure T, also called the Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy, would prohibit non-local corporations from donating to county elections.

“We’re really excited!” enthused campaign co-manager Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap said close to midnight on Tuesday. “We’re very proud of our community — but we’re not surprised!”

As of press time, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, Measure T was ahead with 54.97 percent of votes stacking up in its favor and 45.03 percent against.

Absentee ballots, reported shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., fell along a similar divide, with 52 percent yes votes and 48 percent no, giving an initial indication of which way the vote might go.
------------------

(3) http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/local/ci_3909566

3rd District voters choose Pinches' Colfax leading in 5th district race
By KATIE MINTZ The Daily Journal

John Pinches and David Colfax look to be the likely 3rd and 5th District supervisors following Tuesday's election...

With 100 percent of 3rd District precincts reporting, Pinches was the unofficial winner of the 3rd District supervisor seat with 54 percent of the votes...

-------------------------
(4)
http://www.thepresstribune.com/articles/2006/06/07/news/top_stories/05weygandt.txt
Weygandt wins county supervisor race Tuesday

By: Joshua W. Bingham, Gold Country News Service
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 10:09 AM PDT

Through receiving 70 percent of the votes with 92 percent of the precincts rep-orting at 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, Robert Wey-gandt clearly was elected to his fourth term as District 2 Supervisor on the Placer County Board of Supervisors ...

Simmons estimated his team spent about $380,000 on the campaign. Weygandt, however, estimated the Simmons camp spent twice as much as his own.

Causing much media coverage was the fact the Tsakopoulos family, major developers in the area, donated $100,000 to Simmons' campaign on May 31.

Although a Placer County Elections Division spokesperson relayed that, according to late contribution reports, while $118,500 was given to Weygandt's campaign and $232,251.83 was given to Simmons' campaign between May 25 and June 2, a true receipt of how much money was spent wouldn't be available until required in a report later in the year...
------------------

(5)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/08/BAG46JAKDK1.DTL&type=politics
ELECTION 2006
Oakland Races
Dellums leads, but counting not over
Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Ron Dellums was winning Oakland's mayoral race by the slimmest of margins Wednesday, but with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted one by one, the outcome was nowhere near assured.

The former congressman, who gave what sounded a lot like a victory speech Tuesday night, had just 125 votes more than the 50 percent majority needed to win the election outright, election officials said Wednesday.
-----------------------

(6)
http://www.shns.com/shns/g_index2.cfm?action=detail&pk=POMBO-06-07-06

Primary vote shows 'vulnerability' for Pombo

By MICHAEL DOYLE
McClatchy Newspapers
07-JUN-06

WASHINGTON -- Republican Richard Pombo could pay a price for his victory in his most challenging Republican primary ever.

It all depends on what the meaning of "win" is.

The seven-term congressman from Tracy, Calif., did handily defeat his GOP challenger Tuesday, former congressman Pete McCloskey, 62 percent to 32 percent. In a general election, that would be a more than comfortable margin.

But in a primary, facing a 78-year-old challenger who only recently had taken an apartment in the Northern San Joaquin Valley congressional district, the win could be spun in several ways. Not all of the interpretations favor Pombo.

"The result shows a serious vulnerability, but no more than that," Bruce Cain, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said Wednesday. "At a minimum, it means that the Republicans will have to put money into this race, which they certainly did not want to do."

Money is certainly abundant. Helped by his perch as chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo reported raising $81,300 in just the past week. All told, Pombo has raised more than $1.7 million this election cycle.

But it wasn't just the congressional candidates pouring money into the race. In an interview Wednesday, Pombo estimated that the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, among others, spent several million dollars attacking him with ads. Some even ran on expensive San Francisco stations, a rarity for a San Joaquin Valley race ...
----------------------

(7)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/08/BAG46JAFDG1.DTL&type=politics
11TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Pombo basks in his decisive victory
30 percentage point win over McCloskey 'pretty convincing'
Greg Lucas, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Rather than proof of weakness, Rep. Richard Pombo's 62 percent- to-32 percent primary victory over former Rep. Pete McCloskey just as likely signaled how strong the seven-term Tracy Republican will run in November.

Pombo benefits from a district centered in his home San Joaquin County with 44 percent GOP registration to 37 percent Democratic and a challenger in favor of increasing taxes -- including gasoline -- whom Pombo defeated handily two years ago.

"People can dream all they want but it was a pretty convincing win," said Wayne Johnson, Pombo's chief political consultant. "We stopped our advertising two weeks out because we didn't see what the point was."

Environmental groups, angered by the House Resources Committee chairman's desire to weaken the federal Endangered Species Act, spent more than $1 million to defeat him.

They, and national Democrats, see Pombo as vulnerable, particularly if voters carry through in November on an anti-incumbent mood showing up in public opinion polls.

"He isn't motivating his base. He's got a large anti-Pombo vote within his own party," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, which spent more than $400,000 against Pombo in the Republican primary ...

"Pombo won the primary by more 30 points. And for anyone who thinks that's a blow to him you have to look at Pete McCloskey," said Bob Giroux, a former Democratic campaign consultant, now lobbyist. "McCloskey was known in the district but he's also a legend. You could put him in San Bernardino and he'd still get 32 percent" ...

But Pombo is likely to zero in on McNerney's support for increasing a number of taxes.

In a survey on the Project Vote Smart Web page, McNerney said he supports slight increases in alcohol, cigarette, inheritance and gasoline taxes. He wants large increases in capital gains and corporate taxes.

"On just about every issue, he is on the wrong side for the district," Johnson said. "I've never seen a political suicide note this long."
-------------------------

(8)
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/08/us/08brown.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Jerry Brown Wins Nomination for California Attorney General

By JESSE McKINLEY
Published: June 8, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO, June 7 — Jerry Brown, the former governor of California and the current mayor of Oakland, handily won a Democratic primary for state attorney general on Tuesday, setting up a fight with a lesser-known but well-financed Republican candidate.

Skip to next paragraph
Related
Narrow Victory by G.O.P. Signals Fall Problems (June 8, 2006)
Schwarzenegger Voices New Confidence (June 8, 2006)
This Time, Jerry Brown Wants to Be a Lawman (June 5, 2006)With all precincts reporting, Mr. Brown had received 63 percent of the vote versus 37 percent for Rocky Delgadillo, the city attorney of Los Angeles. The Republican candidate, Chuck Poochigian, a state senator from Fresno, was unopposed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Poochigian blazed through a series of interviews, promising a serious challenge to Mr. Brown, the son of a former governor, Edmund G. Brown Sr., and a three-time presidential candidate who has spent nearly four decades in politics.

"My biggest challenge is overcoming Jerry's name advantage," Mr. Poochigian, 57, said in a telephone interview from Sacramento. "But Jerry has a bigger challenge to overcome, and that's his record."

Mr. Brown embarked on his own campaign tour, barnstorming through the state on a private plane, traveling from Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, to a pair of Southern California stops in Burbank and San Diego; then north to Sacramento; and south again to Bakersfield and Los Angeles.

Along the way, Mr. Brown ventured to Mr. Poochigian's turf in the Central Valley to address police officials. At every stop, he sought to remind voters of his credentials, including his "practical hands-on experience" as a governor and a mayor.

"I've been an independent leader, not just an appendage of narrow partisan politics," said Mr. Brown, 68, before boarding a plane in San Diego. "I'm running against a man who has basically been a staffer or bureaucrat or a legislator. He's never run a darn thing."

But Mr. Brown said he expected a tough campaign, and predicted that Mr. Poochigian would use negative advertisements to try to paint him as being out of step with average Californians.

Mr. Poochigian promised to run "a truthful campaign," but he was already hammering Mr. Brown for a recent spike in crime in Oakland. "In the case of Jerry Brown, the truth is going to hurt," he said.

In the election to determine Mr. Brown's successor in Oakland, the former congressman Ron Dellums appeared to have won, although officials were still counting the ballots.

Mr. Poochigian has $3.3 million in his campaign chest, aides said, and has already raised more money than any other Republican running for statewide office except Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But he probably faces an uphill battle in a state that often votes Democratic. Mr. Brown's vote total among Democratic voters on Tuesday was just 771 shy of what Mr. Poochigian received from all Republican voters.
-------------------

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

OFF AND RUNNING
'NEW ERA': Angelides opens campaign after joining Westly in a unity pledge
Carla Marinucci, Tom Chorneau, Chronicle Political Writers

Thursday, June 8, 2006

M

Sacramento -- Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took to the skies and roads Wednesday, kicking off what's expected to be a pricey general election contest and a raucous debate over who can best protect California's future.

Angelides, on a state fly-around that began just hours after he was declared the winner of a bruising primary battle against state Controller Steve Westly for the party's gubernatorial nomination, promised to bring Democrats together in a unified campaign to lead "a new era of progressive action in California."

"I'm full of hope and optimism ... about what this state can be," said Angelides, surrounded by supporters including Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Democratic lieutenant governor nominee John Garamendi.

In a ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel near Universal Studios, Angelides and Westly declared unity, clasped hands, shared a brief hug and tried to downplay the vitriol that dominated the primary campaign.

Westly said Angelides is "committed to the environmental values" of the Democratic Party -- a statement in stark contrast to ads Westly ran during the past week accusing Angelides of playing a role in the dumping of millions of gallons of sludge into Lake Tahoe.

Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, who for months has appeared at events designed to showcase his gubernatorial policies and status, also went into full campaign mode ...

"The other side is talking about the future; we are building the future," he said. "The other side is talking about all the problems California has; we are solving the problems" ,,,

Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, the president of Sacramento-based AKT Development and daughter of developer Angelo Tsakopoulos -- who with her father donated $8.7 million toward the Democratic candidate's effort to an independent expenditure campaign -- said yesterday that her family was "absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do" and was "enormously proud" of Angelides' win.

But in an interview with The Chronicle, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said "I don't know" if the Tsakopoulos family will play another major financial donor role in the general election.

She said the primary effort was aimed at helping firefighters, police officers and teachers get out their message of support for Angelides and level the playing field for the treasurer in his battle against the wealthy, self-funded Westly.

"Phil Angelides is now the Democratic Party candidate -- and the Democratic Party is going to do what it needs in this election," she said. "The party is going to support him" ...

Just how quickly Democrats can recover from the wounds of a bloody political primary competition and turn full attention to Schwarzenegger was openly questioned by former San Francisco mayor and radio talk show host Willie Brown in the state Capitol.

"I think probably Westly will be able to do it -- I don't know about Angelides," Brown said. "He's the one who's most offended" ...
------------------

| »

Vote No on Measure A Tax

Submitted: Jun 03, 2006

URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT

A flyer against the Merced County Transportation Tax Measure A appeared in the Merced Sun-Star Saturday morning. We have included it below and attached it to this message.

We urge you to read and share these flyers with Merced County residents before the Primary Election on Tuesday, June 6.

We should not use a sales tax to raise money for transportation funds to benefit special interests because a sales tax has an unfair impact on lower-income residents. (1) Merced County ranks fifth from the bottom of California’s 58 counties in per capita income. (2)

Sincerely,

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

MAKE Residential and Commercial Development Pay Its Own Way!

REJECT Welfare Subsidies for the Building Industry Association!

In 2002, the Citizens of Merced County VOTED DOWN the Measure M road-improvement tax. Merced County and its cities went right on approving thousands of new homes. This RECKLESS action is destroying hundreds of miles of our existing streets and roads because development doesn’t pay for itself.

VOTE NO on Measure A because it doesn’t fix the problems. It adds to them! The intent of this tax measure to improve highways 99, 152, 59, and 33, and to build the Mission Ave. Interchange, is to attract more urban growth, not to fix local potholes. The only “economic engine” helped here is the profits of developers who want you to pay for the impacts of their projects while they plant the last crop in the San Joaquin Valley- subdivisions!

VOTE NO on Measure A because the county General Plan is an absurdly outdated, non-compliant hodge-podge of amendments and conflicting goals and policies. About 20 citizens’ groups petitioned the Merced County Board of Supervisors to slow growth until county and city general plans and community plans are legally compliant. Special interests – not the public – are controlling the Merced County planning process. Use your vote to send a message to government highway funders that these special interests do not speak for us!

VOTE NO on Measure A because UC won’t pay more than $350,000 to cover the $200 million cost of it’s impacts to local streets, parks and schools. Measure A will be used to finance the Mission Ave. Interchange off Hwy 99, the Yellow Brick Beltway to UC Merced and west to Atwater. This will hasten sprawl and will eat away productive agricultural land. This UC beltway will draw business away from downtown Merced. The Mission Ave Interchange will become the location of a Wal-Mart Distribution Center, bringing in about a thousand diesel trucks a day to increase our air pollution.

VOTE NO on Measure A because it is a matching fund gimmick created by special interests. Your supervisors have used your tax dollars to create a lobbying group called the One Voice Committee that speaks for special interests, not for you. VOTE NO on Measure A to tell state and federal highway funders “One Voice” speaks for special interest, not for you.

VOTE NO on Measure A because the sand and gravel trucks supplying these proposed highway projects tear down our county roads and degrade our waterways. Spending dollars on new roadways instead of for maintenance and repair of existing county roads and city streets is a misappropriation of public funds for special interests.

VOTE NO on Measure A because you’re tired of government by and for special interests – from UC Merced to local, national and international development corporations – making land deals for their profits and your losses. An estimated 100,000 new homes are already in the planning process in Merced County.

VOTE NO on Measure A because you will have no vote on the projects it will fund. Special interests have already decided how that money will be spent and will continue to decide how it will be spent.

VOTE NO on Measure A now and you may prevent Measure Z later, as special interests continue to pile on special taxes for schools, water, sewer, electricity, parks and recreation, libraries, solid waste, emergency services, police and fire protection – like Measures S, M and H, and the Merced City Hotel Tax for a UC Olympic-size swimming pool.

PAID FOR BY MERCED COUNTY RESIDENTS AGAINST MEASURE A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

Here is a partial list of residential developments ALREADY planned for Merced County
Atwater - 1,584 units, Atwater Ranch, Florsheim Homes 21 Units, John Gallagher, 25.2 acres.

Delhi - 1,100 units, Matthews Homes, 2,000 acres.

Fox Hills - 907 units, Fox Hills Estates north 337 units, Fox Hills Estates, central- 1,356 units.

Hilmar-JKB Homes, over 3,000 units.

Livingston - 1,200 units, Ranchwood Homes 420 acres. Del Valle, Gallo Ranchwood, 1,000acres,

Los Banos -, Ranchwood, 932 acres 323 units, Pinn Brothers, 34 units, Court of Fountains, 2.7 acres 95 units, Woodside Homes,

City of Merced - 11,616 units, UC Merced Community Plan 1,560 acres; 7,800 units, Ranchwood Homes, 2,355 acres, 7,000 units, Bellevue Ranch, 1,400 acres,

Vista Del Lago, 442 units, Weaver Development, 920 units, Fahrens Creek II, -1,282 units,

Fahrens Creek North, 1,093 units, Hunt Family Annexation,

Planada - 4,400 units, Village of Geneva at Planada, Hostetler 1,390 acres.

Felix Torres Migrant Megaplex 127 units, Park Street Estates, 31.8 acres, 200 units.

San Luis Creek 629 units, F & S Investments, 180 acres.

San Luis Ranch - 544 units, 237 acres.

Santa Nella - 8,250 units - Santa Nella Village west 881 units, 350 acres,

The Parkway, phase III, 146 acres - 138 units, Santa Nella Village, 40.7 acres - 544 units,

San Luis Ranch, phase II - 232 units, 312 acres - 182 acres, Arnaudo 1 &2

Stevinson - 3,500 units, Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development - 1,700 units, 3,740 acres.

Winton - 50 units, 17 acres- Gertrude Estates, Mike Raymond, 18 acres - 142 units, Winn Ranch

Commercial Development

WalMart Distribution Center, Riverside Motorsports Park and a growing number of Strip Malls

….and the list goes on!

Measure A gives the green light to all this proposed new residential and commercial development!

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

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

Notes:
(1) http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072554096/student_view0/chapter_15/economic_naturalist_exercises.html
Sales taxes are regressive taxes. This means that the proportion of income paid in taxes declines as income rises. That is, people with low incomes pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than people with high incomes. But what makes a sales tax regressive?
People with low incomes tend to spend a high percentage of the income they receive. At higher income levels, people begin to save (not spend) larger parts of their income. A person is able to save (not spend) part of their income only after they are able to take care of buying necessities like food, housing, clothing, and medical care. Therefore, low-income consumers will spend most of their income while higher income consumers can begin to save more and more.
Since a sales tax falls on income that consumers spend, and low income people spend a larger part of their income, the sales tax falls more heavily on low income consumers. This makes the tax regressive ...

(2) http://www.answers.com/topic/california-locations-by-per-capita-income
Merced ranks 54th in per capita income among California's 58 counties. Only four counties have lower per capita incomes.

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK

MISSION STATEMENT

Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of "Eco-Justice" -- the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

| »

A little justice, maybe

Submitted: May 25, 2006

Lay, Skilling Convicted in Enron Collapse
By Kristen Hays
The Associated Press

Thursday 25 May 2006

Houston - Former Enron Corp. chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were convicted Thursday of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud in one of the biggest business scandals in U.S. history.

The verdict put the blame for the demise of what was once the nation's seventh-largest company squarely on its top two executives. It came in the sixth day of deliberations following a trial that lasted nearly four months.

Lay was also convicted of bank fraud and making false statements to banks in a separate trial related to his personal banking.

Lay was convicted on all six counts against him in the trial with Skilling. Skilling was convicted on 19 of the 28 counts against him, including one count of insider trading, and acquitted on the remaining nine.

"You have reflected on this evidence for the last few days and reached a very thorough verdict, and I thank you," U.S. District Judge Sim Lake told jurors.

He set sentencing for Sept. 11.

Lake set a $5 million bond for Lay and ordered him to surrender his passport before he leaves the courthouse. The judge said the bond already in place for Skilling was sufficient. The judge said he did not believe home confinement was necessary for either.

The former corporate titans are now felons facing years in prison after being convicted of running an elaborate fraud that gave the company a glamorous illusion of success.

Jurors declared through their verdict that both men repeatedly lied to cover a vast web of unsustainable accounting tricks and failing ventures that shoved Enron into bankruptcy protection in December 2001.

The conviction was a major win for the government, serving almost as a bookend in an era that has seen prosecutors win convictions against executives from WorldCom Inc. to Adelphia Communications Corp. and homemaking maven Martha Stewart.

The panel rejected Skilling's insistence that no fraud occurred at Enron other than a few executives skimming millions from secret scams behind his and Lay's backs, and a lethal combination of bad press and poor market confidence sank the company.

Both men testified in their own defense. Skilling is expected to appeal.

The government's victory caps a 4 1/2 year investigation that nabbed 16 guilty pleas from ex-Enron executives, including former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and former Chief Accounting Officer Richard Causey.

All are awaiting sentencing later this year except for two who either finished or are serving prison terms.

Many deemed the outcome of the Lay-Skilling case a final exam of sorts of the federal government's ability to prove complicated corporate skullduggery.

Enron's implosion and the subsequent scandals vexed Wall Street, sent skittish investors fleeing, increased regulatory scrutiny over publicly traded companies and prompted Congress to stiffen white collar penalties.

Former WorldCom head Bernard Ebbers awaits a 25-year prison term for orchestrating the $11 billion accounting fraud that bankrupted the company. Stewart did five months in prison and more time confined to work and home for lying about a stock sale. Adelphia Communications Inc. founder John Rigas and his son got double-digit prison terms for looting their company.

HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy bucked the trend with his acquittal last year of fraud charges despite five former finance chiefs pointing the finger at him in a $2.7 billion scheme to inflate earnings. He dropped in on the Lay-Skilling case during Fastow's lengthy testimony in March, saying the ex-CFO couldn't be believed.

But those cases were much simpler than that against Lay and Skilling.

The government's vast investigation seemed to stall until Fastow pleaded guilty in January 2004 to two counts of conspiracy and paved the way for prosecutors to secure indictments against his bosses. Fastow also led investigators to Causey, who was bound for trial alongside Lay and Skilling until he broke ranks with their unified defense and pleaded guilty to securities fraud just weeks before the trial began.

| »

The Blockhead Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley

Submitted: May 23, 2006

The newest “vision” for the San Joaquin Valley, according to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, which graced us with its prestigious presence last week in Merced, is composed of four elements:

· rapid urbanization;
· destruction of local, state and federal environmental law, regulation and resource-agency enforcement;
· demand for state and federal public funds to pay for the infrastructure caused by the on-going speculative housing boom;
· demand for a “business-friendly regulatory climate” (including maintaining low wages) to entice state, national and global corporate investment in a new “economic engine” for the San Joaquin Valley.

The last element is urged with all the sincerity and passion middle-aged bureaucrats are capable of, because, of course, the Valley is incapable of creating its own economic engine from its own enormous capital from its own state, national and global corporations, built on low wages, a large pool of unemployed, illegal immigration, as well as an enormous amount of hard work, savvy business management, superb marketing campaigns, total control of elected officials, and basic agricultural and engineering ingenuity (the best of it without academic credentials).

In short, the Valley “vision” remains what it has always been: nostalgia for the funding of federal and state water projects that made it great. When you add subsidized water to a huge alluvial fan, hard working, intelligent farmers and ranchers from Europe, the Midwest and the Middle East, low-paid seasonal workers from Oklahoma to Okinawa to Michoacan to the Punjab and elsewhere, Presto! You get the best agricultural economy in the world, which just naturally attracts every business and political force in the nation to try to suck it dry and bleed it to death, currently represented by cartels that monopolize pesticides, fertilizers and seeds, coupled with foreign trade policies that expose Valley agricultural production to competition from every lower wage agricultural economy in the world, including some, like Texas, right here at home. Chinese cotton and genetically modified organisms are perhaps the two most pressing issues, but there are others. The incredible ability of Valley farmers to produce has been the source of great prosperity (for some producers) but also a source of great economic pain. Excellent economic arguments exist that the Valley’s curse is overproduction. A corollary to that, in political circles, given the volume of production and its dependency on foreign markets, trade policies and subsidies, is that the Valley has never been adequately represented in Congress. Our 250 crops fare badly in Congress against the basic grains of the Mississippi Valley states. Our creativity, our diversity and our ingenuity are our curse. Yet, even there, in an odd, backhanded way, we benefit, for surely the dumping of Midwest corn in Mexico since NAFTA (1993) has driven hundreds of thousands of able Mexican farmers off their land and flung many of them against the border walls and fences.

The Valley agricultural economy has never been stable. The kind of dynamism and genius that created it is, frankly, not stable. It’s quirky. It’s a boom and bust deal. After a season of plenty, disaster. Within living memory the Boswell Corporation gave its workers a year’s paid vacation when Tulare Lake flooded. Although it is hard to imagine that the Miller-Lux Company would have been beneficent, it is harder to get a descendant of its employees to speak ill of it. In the years before the UFW went bankrupt economically and organizationally, how many farmers that did their own tractor work and sprayed their own crops denied their businesses were built on the backs of their Mexican workers? How many who could not abide the union hiring hall paid union wages to non-union workers? How many workers who could not abide the hiring hall worked out of some loyalty to the grower as well as the wages? The thing between workers and growers only becomes that abstract concept, Labor, when some people work in the field and others don't.

But now, there is a new “vision” for the Valley: the developer’s vision of the Valley as real estate upstream in the state’s water supply system. It’s a classic business con game, built on floating investment looking for a home, and it is growing increasingly more tenuous as the national economy sours. Perhaps this spring the assault on every natural resource, including the agricultural, in the Valley, by developers and their bureaucratic lackeys appears merely ridiculous; by next year it will be so absurd we might not get another Partnership dog-and-pony show, trotting out local and state leadership whose glamour is fading by the week, along with the Hun’s chances for reelection.

Local officials came whining before the Partnership panel, crying poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, domestic violence (Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s staffer’s arrest on that charge was politely not mentioned), immigrant populations, the unfairness of government to the San Joaquin Valley, our wretched state – so much worse than Appalachia, how the Valley groans under the impact of cruel, heartless environmental law employed by demons in human form who aim, devilishly, only to harm the half dozen or so big developers in the region and to humiliate their army of bought and sold elected officials and sycophantic staff, who engineer the destruction of law and regulation.

Fact – to refute the plaintive wanderings of the former UC Merced planning director: UC railroaded the process of state and federal environmental review. The deal was run out of Gov. Gray Davis’ office, an honest political payoff for an honest political service – delivery of the Valley vote in 1998, principally as a result of the brilliant staff work out of former Rep. Gary Condit’s office. Condit was the first California congressman to back Davis in the primary. Together they developed a Valley strategy to pick up the necessary votes to win the General Election. Condit’s price was UC Merced (in his district). Davis delivered. Straight political deal. The only problem was that it ran roughshod over a number of environmental laws, regulations and the agencies charged with enforcing them. Smith echoed with perfect pitch the huge Merced Whine about these laws, regulations and agencies. Only Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, can do it better, when he is in full cry about the Anguish of His Contributors.

How dare members of the local community sue the University of California, this glorious project with such widespread public support! Perhaps we are having a senior moment, but we cannot remember when the public was ever asked to vote on UC Merced.

Normally, we would have expected the Shrimp Slayer to have been at the Partnership event. But the vice chair of the Partnership is San Joaquin County’s largest developer, who last year threw a joint fundraiser for the Shrimp Slayer and Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, shortly before the demented duo introduced their “bipartisan” bill to gut the Endangered Species Act. Rather than face this political awkwardness among his constituency, aware of the beating Pombo is currently taking from Pete McCloskey, Cardoza is in hiding south of his district. He is probably holed up in the Fresno offices of Westlands Water District, planning how to wreck the settlement negotiations between the Friant Water Users Authority and the Natural Resources Defense Council over the thorny problem of how much water can continue to flow to eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties after a federal judge has mandated that the San Joaquin River must actually have water in it – even in the middle of Fresno County, where it hasn’t had water in it for 50 years.

The Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the current governor's pale attempt to replicate the pale Valley Economic Summit Gov. Davis tried (once), had no new ideas. State leadership and its stakeholding panel -- the chairwoman was secretary of CalTrans and some other agencies, the secretary of food and agriculture, various representatives of “the private sector,” and assorted local elected officials – had no new ideas. They had a few new words for business as usual, including “partnership” and “blueprint,” for unregulated urban growth.

That, coupled with the local "one-voice" whining for more political power and the disgusting begging for public funds, made this event a milestone in the political grotesque, perhaps the last milestone before the cliff is reached.

Or else.

Or else the agricultural economy of the Valley – universally vilified by the local whiners and the panel (except the secretary of food and agriculture, who noted that the agricultural economy is still – miraculously and most inconveniently – GROWING) – will continue to limp along, feeding us, housing us somewhat, providing the taxes that will support what education exists, and may, in some way utterly unknown to the political classes and their developer funders hungry for farms and ranches to turn into subdivisions, may just get us through the concocted economic crisis portrayed by the whining local bureaucrats to the sympathetic hearts of the state bureaucrats so deeply buried in the pockets of developers that the spare change in those pockets seems like manna from Heaven.

The plight of Valley public education is truly horrible, if only one lacks any historical perspective on the problem. Valley public education has always been what it is, moreorless the same as public education anywhere, and often better than in most places. I would still rather have a child of mine in public schools in Merced than in any major California city. There is a quality about our helplessly diverse immigrant population of children here in the Central Valley that has always inspired the best kind of teaching, the most quixotic commitments among the core of real teachers that ever make a difference, because these kids manage complex acts of peace, hope and harmony so far beyond the so-called adults who allegedly lead us.

The city will always outscore the Valley on city-designed academic tests. But, until recently at least, its entry-level jobs have provided youth and immigrants a chance to learn through work that has far out-stripped the learning possibilities of urban youth. We should build on that experience, not constantly run it down.

Yes, educational administrators are correct to ask for more money. That is their job, but only because they refuse to stand up and openly, consistently denounce state policies, encrypted in SB 50, that despoil public education in rapidly urbanizing regions like this one. Better than begging, our school administrators should openly, consistently, and simply, denounce SB 50, the filthy deal between the developers and the Legislature behind it, and the local deals between developers and politicians here and now. On behalf of our children, we should stand without equivocation, as so many Central Valley teachers stand, without equivocation, before pupils they need to teach and often do teach. Begging and wheedling before a blockheaded panel, whose formation is nothing but a political stunt, doesn't represent the tradition of Valley public education its administrators seem to have forgotten how to be proud of.

We have a good tradition of public education in the Valley. To see it on its knees, as the local superintendent presented it, was the ugliest thing about this ridiculous hearing. But that ugliness goes to the fundamental point at stake in the spring assault on Valley resources, human, agricultural and environmental: a century of unexamined pro-growth-at-any-cost state policies has impoverished us all. It is ruining our water supply and quality; it has already ruined our air quality; and it seeks with all the zeal of bought and sold politicians and their appointed staffs, to destroy our environmental law, regulation and resource agency enforcement of those laws and regulations.

This is wrong and contrary to the spirit of Valley public education and the families and neighborhoods behind it.

UC Merced was mentioned frequently as the savior of absolutely everything. Yet, other reports indicate not so many college applicants want to come to UC Merced.

A suggestion (from a comment made by the Los Banos city manager): close UC Merced. It was never anything but a boondoggle for a few land owners, financial institutions and real estate speculators anyway. Convert its facilities into a first class vocational training institute, on the model of the one in Klamath Falls, OR. Train students in the skills of manufacturing. If they can’t get jobs in the US due to continuing corrupt, off-shoring policies, they will probably be able to do well in Korea, Taiwan, Mexico or elsewhere. These skills will produce stable incomes. Perhaps, if the Valley “leadership” awakes from its dreams of quick bucks from real estate, it may even see the potential in such a course, if for no other reason because it is within the culture and tradition of the Valley – AS IT IS – to educate people in practical industries.

The core of any industrial economy and the means by which that economy transcends its last generation lies in an educated industrial workforce. Something has gone terribly wrong with the institutional culture of the University of California. Perhaps one too many win-win, public-private partnerships has erased from its institutional memory the idea that it is a "public research" institution, that its purpose is to serve the California public's higher educational needs rather than exploit the medical research opportunities provided by its being the "engine of growth" in the worst polluted air basin in the nation. The Valley doesn't want to be the UC laboratory for lung disease anymore than we want our politicians to solve air pollution by suspending air quality law to allow for more UC-stimulated urban growth.

So, we propose that, rather than UC Merced educating some class of technologists better developed at any of its other campuses, we close its campus and reopen it as the best vocational training center in the nation, producing the top machinists, tool and die makers, mold makers, auto and farm equipment engineers – in general, a class of brilliant, forward looking people who can build very complex, useful things with their hands and help California catch up with the rest of the industrialized world in building cleaner industrial processes. Sometimes, academic engineers and scientists are required in this process, but without the people who can build the new equipment, giving constant feedback in the process of invention, innovation does not occur.

I make this suggestion because it is harmonious with the genius of the Valley. This is the training that will build the next best post-harvest handling shed. Someone from this school will build a thresher that will not kill every ground-nesting bird in its path. Here, a student will be presented with the challenge of how to make local streams both habitable to wildlife and adequate to carry increasing flows and she will solve the puzzle.

Here, invention will occur because the Valley, as always, will attract devoted teachers and eager students. The Valley itself – socially, economically, environmentally – remains a huge, beautiful puzzle, an enormous challenge for people with the right kind of education, stressing the practical, hands-on solutions to concrete puzzles.

UC, lamentably, is not that institution. UC Merced was and remains a land deal. Of course, the Regents and the chancellor, could never ever admit they were taken for such a wild political railroad ride. This, too, is our genius. We have always had to be better at politics than our urban cousins and we have always risen to the challenge.

Why?

Because agriculture is always more complex than urban reality. Political leaders from agricultural areas must always both know their own economy and the urban economy. Urban politicians indulge themselves in the illusion that they do not have to know agricultural economics.

It’s complicated.

What the Partnership and every other developer-driven economic model coming at us says is that reducing farmland to its real estate value is simple and the complexity of a living agricultural system -- however mangled by agribusiness conglomeration it is – is messy and dys-economic.

To this, if you are a Valley person, you can only reply with deleted expletives. We will stand behind our rich, incredibly diverse population and our incredibly rich, diverse agricultural production. We will say NO to local and state leadership bought and sold by developers wishing to make the Central Valley the next, upstream, San Fernando Valley. We will oppose a "new" economy based on selling the most productive agricultural land in the world to outside real estate speculators. That isn't economics; that is just ruin.

Statistically, our immigrants look poor. In their hearts they aren’t poor. In their hearts they know what real poverty is – learning takraw in a Thai refugee camp, running for your life from a federale, a government that sold your village, the sheer stagnation of island living.

We have here in the Valley a unique population composed of some of the strongest, most adventuresome people in the world, people who stood up, escaped, lived, thrived, carried on, survived miseries and oppressions our begging bureaucrats will never understand and so will never realize is the only real source of capital there ever was.

The entire panel of the Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley should have adjorned, after their dismal hearing, to Applegate Park to observe Hmongs throw spinning tops. Although they would not have understood the language or how to play the game, those with some residual sensitivity could not have failed to catch the feeling.

The top spinners have no money to pay blockhead partnership. Only the developers can really support partners in the style to which they have become accustomed. A pity. The Hmong top spinners could have reminded the partners of human dignity, a nice palate cleanser after a morning listening to local officials begging for sewer funds to accommodate irresponsible growth. But the partners chose to dine by invitation to their own kind only.

"What are the top 3 priorities for action that will improve the future economic prosperity and quality of life for the San Joaquin Valley?" the Partnership asked.

The public, invited for short comments at the end of the session, replied in part, as follows:

Our "leaders" are dimwits. Don't listen to them. We don't. They have no ideas but urban growth. Their minds are like salad oil slipping off the lip of a plate, as oily as the latest "balancing" of antagonistic, mutually exclusive goals, greased up in new terms every fresh funding season. Our leaders want everything but to make real choices. The public, not our bought and sold empty suits, should have been first, not last, to speak at this hearing. But, the manage that would have required real political leadership on the part of the panel, which has none.

There should be a moritorium on growth until general plans are updated.

There should be a permanent outlawing of the corrupt practice of developers indemnifying land-use authorities against legal challenges arising from their irresponsible, bought and sold land-use decisions.

We should preserve agriculture and wildlife habitat to allow agriculture and wildlife the opportunity to reach their next stages of evolution.

We should develop our enormous human capital rather than allow UC to use it for its public-private, win-win research projects.

We are sick and tired of the "one voice" of local shills for outside speculators. Why is the second point on their agenda always keeping wages low if they wish to develop the Valley? When will they ever awaken from the dream of the fast real estate deal and stand up for their own people, the agricultural productivity of this land, policies that will improve rather than worsen our air and water? When will they quit automatically selling our environment and our workforce on the cheap? When will they find within themselves some other value than simple money greed?

| »

Water's high and the visioning is easy

Submitted: Apr 10, 2006
Water's high and the visioning is easy
So cry, l'il baby
Things done gone awry.

Anonymous
Locke CA

Our governor, the Hun, and the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature, who recently failed to pass an infrastructure bond to finance the public works projects the state needs to catch up with its speculative real estate mania, hand-in-hand this week, are ennunciating a new California vision on how to combat global warming. They're going to "break from the Sacramento gridlock" and lead the nation.

"Nobody from the White House to most state capitals has wanted to face the politically risky choices needed to curb industrial emissions, driving habits and everyday life. That's where California aims to be different," San Francisco Chronicle editorialists intone hopefully.

"The controls aim mainly at industry: oil refineries, cement kilns, dump sites -- even manure ponds on big dairies, which give off lung-clogging gas. State law has already begun mandating caps on power plants. Cleaner tailpipe rules approved in 2004 are tied up in a lawsuit brought by automakers and joined by the Bush administration," they add,problematically.

Vision. Leadership. Smart growth. Win-win public/private partnerships. Environmental stewardship. Consensus! California, the world's 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases will -- with leadership -- drastically cut those emissions by ... you pick a date, the Hun likes 2020.

These are the politics of an over-populated region that has grown beyond the carrying capacity of its resources, devouring its incredible agricultural capacity, where developers own leadership, lock, stock and barrel, and so we must be led into paths of denial to keep the development based economy afloat at all costs ... without raising taxes.

In the various cults of leadership elites "workshop" weekend-by-weekend, paying enormous attention to "visioning," (what used to be called "discovering and following your passion," and in an earlier, far, far more honest time, "getting stoned.")

These visions fall upon a discontent and anxious populous like an immaterial fog of WD-40. The only difference is that they don't fix anything.

Why not fix something? Anything. Start small. Work your way up to global warming after you get the deficit down. Why not make something work beside the next greased permit for the next subdivision?

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

State steps up on combatting global warming

San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, April 9, 2006

IF WASHINGTON won't, then Sacramento will. This state has set its own course many times over: on car tailpipe emissions, a ban on coastal drilling and abortion law. Now comes the biggest go-it-alone bet in a long time: greenhouse-gas controls.

Both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an avowed greenie, and pro-environment Democrats have produced comparable plans that would put California on a tough pollution diet. By 2020, the state must roll back greenhouse gas emissions -- mainly carbon dioxide -- to 1990 levels.

It's a drop of 25 percent that will bring changes across the state in the ways people work and play. But it also sends a message to the rest of a nation that is neglecting mounting danger signs and passing the buck to future generations.

Other plans to rein in California's air pollution are already underway from farms to freeways, but the attack on global warming goes after greenhouse gases left largely unchecked. These emissions form a heat-trapping ceiling in the atmosphere and are blamed by most scientists for weather swings, higher temperatures, changes in vegetation and wildlife, and future rises in sea levels. In recent years, California state researchers have reported more rain, less snow, floods and beach erosion traceable to a warmer climate.

Nobody from the White House to most state capitals has wanted to face the politically risky choices needed to curb industrial emissions, driving habits and everyday life. That's where California aims to be different.

What makes change possible is a break from Sacramento gridlock. Both the Republican governor and Democratic leaders are on the same wavelength in proposing a major goal and directing state agencies to get there. Heard this before? The governor's vaunted infrastructure package, pegged at $222 billion over 10 years, splintered when it landed in a suspicious Legislature.

And it could happen again with greenhouse controls, which have already come under attack from the state Chamber of Commerce. But the governor's staff has vetted the plan in public meetings ad collected 15,000 comments, mostly favorable. Democrats likewise have sounded out their plan in a bill (AB32) carried by Assemblymember Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has made the bill a top priority.

The plans are more alike than not. Both establish a definite deadline and call for a cap on emissions. The plan by the governor's team leans on trading pollution credits that reward clean businesses while costing dirty ones more. The Democratic plan leans on flat cap on emissions and turns over the regulatory rules to the state smog board. Both plans avoid a tax on fuel to raise research funds, an idea that Schwarzenegger opposed.

The controls aim mainly at industry: oil refineries, cement kilns, dump sites -- even manure ponds on big dairies, which give off lung-clogging gas. State law has already begun mandating caps on power plants. Cleaner tailpipe rules approved in 2004 are tied up in a lawsuit brought by automakers and joined by the Bush administration.

The car emission lawsuit illustrates the problem. Washington isn't about to do anything on global warming. President Bush is a famous non-believer when it comes to the science behind the greenhouse effect.

Last June, Schwarzenegger broke with this antediluvian view and declared the greenhouse effect was real in a speech in San Francisco. He directed Alan Lloyd, head of the state Environmental Protection Agency, to come up with a plan. After fits and starts, including the dropping of a politically touchy tax, this plan emerged.

On Tuesday, from the same perch in City Hall, the governor will explain his year-later outlook on global warming controls. He'll do it before an audience of enviros, scientists and skeptical business leaders.

There's no question that the subject is loaded. Raising clean-air standards will impose costs. Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg believes the state will lose jobs and end up importing products from high-polluting competitors, a double whammy that will punish California.

But supporters have a twofold answer. First, states or countries that have neglected the problem will, over time, follow California's lead because of local pressure. If this state, now the planet's 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, can reform, so can others. Secondly, the conversion to a cleaner industrial landscape will churn out more jobs, not fewer, as new businesses develop to meet the 2020 goals. A UC Berkeley study predicts 20,000 new jobs from such work.

Business may not be united in opposition. Silicon Valley is backing the initiative with notables from Sun Microsystems, Google and the venture capital world writing the governor. Several major oil companies, such as Shell and BP, are already on a voluntary state reporting list of greenhouse emissions.

There remain serious risks in redirecting the state's economy. The suggested system of trading pollution credits is still in its infancy. Policymakers have ducked the question of money for research, enforcement and new programs. Lawsuits may surface as state rule-making enters new areas.

But the governor and Democrats are right to take on these risks. They haven't dodged a future challenge and are working together. California has a shown way to be a leader once again.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Why do anything at all?
A study ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted these effects of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions:

Average temperatures would rise by 3 degrees within 100 years.

The state's snowpack, which is half the water supply, would diminish by 75 to 90 percent.

Los Angeles and the Central Valley, which already have the worst smog levels in the nation, would see a jump from 25 to 75 percent in pollution-heavy bad days.

Rising sea levels in the Bay Delta, water shortages and hotter weather would damage California crops.

Floods would strain the state levee system.

Higher temperatures would damage forests and increase chances of wildfires.

Warmer weather would push demand for air conditioning, driving up prices and demand for more emission-producing power plants.

Source: www.climatechange.ca.gov

| »

Winter storms drive Killer whales up Delta to Capitol

Submitted: Apr 07, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Seal count:

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

Yes

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

No

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

Abstained

Juan Vargas, D-San Diego (chair)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

| »

Who benefits from crumbling Sacramento Delta levees?

Submitted: Mar 28, 2006

California levee politics.

The state Legislature recently failed to pass a bill in time to qualify a large public works bond initiative on the June ballot. It was not the finest hour of the state Legislature. There is a particularly urgent need for billions of dollars to repair the aging Sacramento Delta levees. In view of the disaster in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi caused by Hurricane Katrina, there is a felt urgency in Sacramento, another large, "river" city, protected by levees, that something should be done about the condition and administration of the Sacramento Delta levees. Considering that about 23 million Southern Californians depend on water supplies from the Delta that, in case of disaster, would be contaminated, is an added urgency. This vulnerability is underscored by the long-running drought in the Southwest, increasing pressure on the Colorado River as it diminishes.

There is actually no good argument against the Legislature asking the people to vote for the bonds necessary to overhaul the levees, and every argument for it.

However, from the start, the bond package was for a huge amount of public works (infrastructure projects) and highway funds is a government word for pork. Evidently, the legislators fell to bickering about projects for their own districts.

The capital press corps threw up their hands in disgust.

But, I never saw an old political question asked, so I thought I'd try it, as simple-minded as it appears in the present political culture of consensus and public-private, win-win partnerships. No matter how dysfunctional any political economic situation is, you have to ask who it benefits.

This led my thinking back to developers, who pretty much run things in the capital. When last fall the state Reclamation Board dared to suggest that under certain circumstances some projects built on flood plains near crumbling levees should be more closely examined, the governor fired the whole board and appointed a new one, which has not yet reopened that issue. It was as if the development lobby in Sacramento declared that the disaster in New Orleans did not exist -- and the governor went along with the gag.

Perhaps I place too much weight on the governor's action. Nevertheless, when I add to it SB 50, which establishes an unreasonably low state cap on developer fees to public schools, and the constant attacks on the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as observing the escalation of water wars accompanying more urban growth and the rapidly deteriorating air quality in the state, I think it's pretty simple.

If developers had wanted a strong bond issue that would have included an adequately financed program for repairing Delta levees, I believe it is probable we would have had one to vote on in June. I think this because I cannot see anyone but developers who would benefit from a major levee breakdown. The governor asked for about $67 billion in bonds. A major failure of the Delta levee system would cost more. Wouldn't the lion's share of those contracts go to the firms that had the equipment, manpower, expertise and political lobby position for the task?

Huge engineering firms like Bechtel, UC's new partner in design and manufacture of a new generation of nuclear weapons, would benefit.

An economic study of the Katrina aftermath would reveal what sort of Wall Street financial institutions would benefit.

By waiting for a disaster, I suppose we spread the risk across the nation, so that taxpayers in North Dakota contribute. After all, it's "federal water," isn't it?

I think others that might, short-sightedly, feel a great flood would be helpful at this time are some environmentalists. I say short-sightedly because the environmental mess such a flood would cause would be a horror unimaginable before Katrina. In any such catastrophe, environmental law and regulation is suspended.

There is an observation that can be made at such times on the relationship between the environment and society. The slogan behind the establishment of the CalFed process a decade ago was: "The Delta is broken." It is now being said, "The Legislature is broken."

If the levees go, California is going to be broken. Who does that benefit?

Another thing to consider is that the economic breakdown of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi is one thing; the economic breakdown of California would be quite another thing. Who would benefit from the consquences of that?

At the moment, it looks like there is no government or consortium of governmental agencies in the United States capable of taking effective responsibility for the accelerating decline of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, where some small fish species are rapidly going extinct and the Chinook salmon count is so low off the Pacific Coast that the commercial Chinook fishery will probably be closed this year.

The economic consequences of a major disaster on this system of old levees would be somewhat greater even than the damage done to the Port of New Orleans, it seems to me. Who would benefit from that?

Bill Hatch

Notes:

http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/columns/walters/story/14231453p-15053924c.html

Dan Walters: Infrastructure bond collapse proves anew that Capitol is broken
By Dan Walters -- Bee Columnist
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, March 17, 2006
Story appeared on Page A3 of The Bee
If nothing else, the comic opera collapse of the two-month political quest for a plan to improve highways, levees and other strained and deteriorating public facilities should finally convince Californians that their Capitol is a broken institution, endemically incapable of dealing with major policy issues.
Monday morning quarterbacks are working overtime to blame this group or that politician for what didn't happen. While some of those observations are accurate as far as they go, however, singling out immediate factors sidesteps the larger political malaise, not only on infrastructure but on countless other big-picture issues as well.

Simply put, California's dizzyingly dense mélange of ideological, geographic, cultural and economic subgroups interacts with a political structure that, in effect, gives every "stakeholder" a virtual veto power over the product. Under those circumstances, there are only two possible outcomes, both of which are bad. Either the product is a monstrosity that accommodates all demands but collapses of its own weight, or there is stalemate and no product at all.
The infrastructure scheme was becoming a classic monstrosity - like the 1996 electric utility "deregulation" plan that blew up a few years later, or a half-dozen deficit-ridden state budgets in this decade - but in the end could not enfold all demands and stalemated.
--------

http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/projects/flooding/story/13775401p-14478776c.html
Governor ousts flood board
Some say the panel's recent move to review new urban development behind levees prompted the change.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday replaced all seven board members of the state's top flood-control agency. Some questioned the timing of the change in light of the board's recent decision to review urban development in flood-prone areas.
The state Reclamation Board handles flood-control policy in California and oversees a 1,600-mile network of vital levees, primarily in the Central Valley. Its members serve at the governor's pleasure and can be appointed or removed at any time.

"These appointees represent the Central Valley and are experts in both water issues and engineering," said Julie Soderlund, deputy press secretary to Schwarzenegger.
The previous board members, most appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, brought years of experience to the complicated issue at an important time, said Ronald Stork, a senior policy advocate with Friends of the River ...
---------

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/03/25/fault_east_of_bay_area_locked_and_loaded/

Next big quake? Maybe east of Bay Area

By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press Writer | March 25, 2006

HAYWARD, Calif. --New cracks appear in Elke DeMuynck's ceiling every few weeks, zigzagging across her living room, creeping toward the fireplace, veering down the wall. Month after month, year after year, she patches, paints and waits.

"It definitely lets you know your house is constantly shifting," DeMuynck said. So do the gate outside that swings uselessly 2 1/2 inches from its latch, the strange bulges in the street and the geology students who make pilgrimages to her cul-de-sac.

DeMuynck could throw her paint brush from her front stoop and hit the Hayward Fault, which geologists consider the most dangerous in the San Francisco Bay Area, if not the nation. Like others who live here, she gets by on a blend of denial, hope and humor.

It's the geologists, emergency planners and historians who seem to do most of the worrying, even in this year of heightened earthquake awareness for the 100th anniversary of San Francisco's Great Quake of April 18, 1906.

Several faults lurk beneath this region, including the San Andreas Fault on the west side of the Bay area, but geologists say the parallel Hayward on the Bay's east side is the most likely to snap next.

"It is locked and loaded and ready to fire at any time," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Tom Brocher...

| »

Tools for public political participation

Submitted: Mar 21, 2006

"Journalism, at least journalism in the public interest, is not a business. It is not an industry. It is a public act supported by a business." -- Jay Rosen of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy
----------------

The Modesto Bee publicized some excellent tools for public political participation last week. We include synopses of the articles below, which include links to organizations focused on public access to governmental information. The Modesto Bee celebrated Sunshine Week in fine style. Unfortunately it was a small party, at least in the northern San Joaquin Valley, where we regularly monitor the two other Bees, the Stockton Record and the Tracy Press, as well as the Merced Sun-Star.

Given the corruption prevailing in Merced government, where Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, continues to squat in the county Administration Building, we can understand the local establishment’s disinterest in encouraging public activism if it isn’t correct rightwing thuggery like that inflicted on citizens opposing the Wal-Mart distribution center by the latest crew of local spokesgoons. Their view is that you should get out of town if your soul isn’t recorded with the County has having been legally sold to a corporation.

If you are tired of the local goon squad, here are some tool for public political participation.

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

3-19-06
Modesto Bee
Mark Vasche column: We won't let the sun go down on public's right to open government...Mark Vasche, Bee Editor

http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/11951559p-12716139c.html
Sunshine Week turned out to be anything but sunny — and quite appropriately so...it was a week of unsettled weather, with everything from gray, gloomy sky to chilly temperatures to showers and hail and, in some areas, even snow. What better way to illustrate the status of open government at the local, state and national levels. ...during Sunshine Week, openness is critical to our government of, by and for the people. And, because "watchdogging" is one of the most important things newspapers do; it is a historic role and responsibility we take very seriously. Jay Rosen of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy explains it: "Journalism, at least journalism in the public interest, is not a business. It is not an industry. It is a public act supported by a business."
--------

Renew commitment to open government...Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware...3-16-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11938203p-12704283c.html

This is Sunshine Week and a good time to look at California's commitment to open government. Here are 10 problems with our public forum and whistle-blower laws and some long-overdue solutions:...
1 Needless Mystery about Closed Sessions:... Solution:...
2 Done Deals in Settlements:... Solution:...
3 They've Got a Secret: ...Solution:...
4 Too Clueless to Hold Accountable:... Solution:...
5 Police State of Denial, Part I:... Solution:...
6 Police State of Denial, Part II: ...Solution:...
7 Secrecy for Effective Science Policy:... Solution:...
8 Putting Teeth in Transparency Law:...Solution:...
9 Making Illegal Court Secrecy Pay Its Way: ...Solution:...
10 A Tale of Two Lawyers:... Solution:...
--------------------

Polls: Public values open government...Bee Starr and News Services...3-16-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11938202p-12704277c.html

"Polls are people, and, once more, the people have demonstrated that (President) Lincoln was right: You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool most of them for very long," said Hodding Carter III, honorary chairman of Sunshine Week. "They know that information is power in a democracy...
Related Resources
Scripps Survey Research Center poll
Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University poll
--------------

State agencies get 'F' for access...Bee Staff and News Services...3-15-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11934278p-12700647c.html

A survey of 31 state agencies found public records violations at each agency, ranging from illegally charging for copies to taking too long to release basic public information.
-------------------

White House inaugurated era of secrecy, critics claim...David Westphal, Bee Washington Bureau
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11930095p-12696762c.html

WASHINGTON — Working at the National Archives in the late 1990s, historian William Burr stumbled onto a 1962 telegram written by diplomat George Kennan about China's nuclear program. Today, the original document has been removed from the archive... Between 1999 and 2004, the number of documents ordered sealed annually nearly doubled, to 15.6 million, according to the Information Security Oversight Office. Meanwhile, declassifying documents has slowed dramatically — from 127 million pages in 1999, to 28 million pages in 2004.
----------------

Central Valley Shines...Adam Aston...3-13-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11926464p-12693365c.html
With a few exceptions, open records provided in informal Bee survey
------------------

Merced woman guards public projects process

Now open to the public...Lorena Anderson...3-12-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11923667p-12690527c.html
State laws make most government document available to all who ask

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

Government watchdog follows the money trail

Paper Trails

Tips on making a request for a public document

Sample letter: how to appeal if your public record request has been denied

Eschew obfuscation - write it so we get it...3-12-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11923666p-12690526c.html

The meetings of elected bodies should be easily accessible to the public — in time, location and, whenever possible, through broadcasts on TV or the Internet. Likewise, the records of government agencies should be available to anyone who wants them, without undue delays, costs or intimidation. But there's another dimension to open government: The way in which government communicates should be understandable to the average citizen. Very often, it is not. Consider these examples:

AP shines light on public information...AP...3-12-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11923665p-12690523c.html

Tom Curley, The Associated Press' president and chief executive officer, has been an outspoken advocate in the campaign against government secrecy. He discussed this year's Sunshine Week initiative spearheaded by media organizations. Q & A's.
-------------------

Open Government Resources on the web...3-10-06

http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11914720p-12682876c.html
California

http://ag.ca.gov/publications/#opengovernment - California Attorney General open government page

www.calaware.org - Californians Aware

www.cfac.org - California First Amendment Coalition

www.cnpa.com - California Newspaper Publishers Association

| »


To manage site Login