State Government

Steinberg's Blueprint for Growth

Submitted: Jun 04, 2007
Better regional planning will help make the state's metro areas more attractive and livable, and that will allow them to grow and attract jobs in a cleaner, healthier setting.-- Sacremento Bee editorial, June 4, 2007

Endorsing a bill authored by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee editorialized today that the Sacramento Area Council of Government's (SACOG) "blueprint" should be made statewide policy for urban areas.

(That's too much Sacramento for one sentence. Might as well throw in the Sacramento Kings, the Sacramento River, Old Sacramento, and West and South Sacramento, too. Nevertheless, the bill proposed is pure Sacramento.)

We were unable to think of one bit of open space SACOG has ever saved from Elk Grove to Auburn and plenty of ground its transportation policies have made more attractive for development. What little open space that has been saved in the SACOG region has been saved by lawsuits mainly under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). One exception might be the Sunset Industrial Zone between Roseville and Lincoln, designed to provide space for industrial development and job creation. Roseville is very proud of its superior jobs/housing ratio. We would guess the current largest employer in the zone is an Indian casino across the road from a regional land fill. The zone is under constant developer pressure from both Roseville and Lincoln, particularly along transportation corridors.

To get local government buy-in, Steinberg is offering cities and counties certain exemptions from CEQA, while promoting his bill as part of an anti-global warming package in the state Senate.

The devil is in the details, particularly on CEQA exemptions, and this bill is a Steinberg work-in-progress special, but right now it looks like another Developer Trojan Horse.

Counterpunch editor and publisher, Alexander Cockburn, has written a series of recent articles challenging the scientific connection between human activity and global warming. Cockburn has taken a lot of "heat" from environmentalists for his position, but his eye for damaging policies world-wide that result from the global warming panic is dead on.

Trust the term-limited Legislature of California, a wholly owned subsidiary of lobbyists for finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE), to use global warming as an excuse for weakening the best state law in the country for protecting land that is not smog producing.

The hypothesis that carbon emissions are causing global warming is a useful one. Another useful one is that smog has stupefied Sacramento.

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

6-5-07
Fuelish sprawl...Editorial
http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/204393.html

Sacramento area's award-winning "Blueprint" plan has hammered home two key points. First, endless sprawl is not inevitable in our region; second, through incentives, local governments can work to contain leapfrog development and promote transit and alternatives to the automobile. The Blueprint doesn't have the sweep of regulatory measures -- such as Oregon's urban growth boundaries -- but it has changed the dynamic of local planning decisions. Every time a major project is proposed, people now ask this question: Does it comply with the Blueprint? That raises another question: Why don't we have Blueprints in every major metropolitan area of California?... state Sen. Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento is working on a measure that could imprint the Blueprint statewide. Senate Bill 375 would require the California Transportation Commission and regional agencies (those with populations larger than 800,000) to conduct the kind of modeling and planning that SACOG has done in this region. If local governments comply with the growth scenarios envisioned by a region, they would be exempted from certain requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. That's a significant incentive. Steinberg is promoting SB 375 as part of a Senate package to fight global warming. Blueprint planning, the thought goes, would limit the growth of greenhouse emissions from vehicles and trucks. That's a timely and reasonable argument, but the real reason to support this bill is much closer to home. Better regional planning will help make the state's metro areas more attractive and livable, and that will allow them to grow and attract jobs in a cleaner, healthier setting.

| »

Report of a meeting in Hillmar on transportation politics

Submitted: Jun 03, 2007

Summary of Meeting at Hilmar Grange Hall, 5/29/07, 6:00PM
by Stevinson Citizen's Group

People in attendance: Table in front of everyone - Jesse Brown, MCAG Executive Director; Senator Jeff Dunham; Kome Ajise, Cal Trans rep for Merced County. Others in attendance: Robin Adams, rep for Kathleen Galgiani; Supervisor Deidre Kelsey (arrived at very end); Merced County Planner, Bob King; about five guys from Livingston, including their mayor and city councilmen; Dan Bohan, Developer for Stevinson Ranch; Diana Westmoreland Padrozo, Merced Co. Farm Bureau, ED; Reporter from Modesto Bee; probably about 75 citizens or more. MAC members: Robb Mitchell, Pat Sparks, Karen Wolchek and Connie Lourenco. Didn't see Dave Anderson or any of the others and I continually looked around for them. Even George and Patty were not there. By the way, I sat right by Dan Bohan.

First Speaker was Robin Adams representing Kathleen Galgiani. He said she would do anything that she can to move road projects forward.

Second Speaker was Kome Ajise, Cal Trans. One sure bet of funding is Hwy 99 projects. 1 billion is going to be spent from Bakersfield to Redding. 1/4 billion for Merced County with the projects being the Mission Project to Madera County line widening to six lanes. Other projects next in line are Los Banos bypass and widening of 99 by Livingston.

Jeff Dunham asked Kome what are ways for counties to be self help. His response was 1. Sales Tax measures (19 counties now have it)
2. Traffic impact fees (mentioned El Dorado County has one.
He said Merced County has one too but it is different from
El Dorado County one. He did not elaborate on how it is
different)
3. Toll roads (Area not right for those. Need more pop and
roads that people have no choice but to take)
4. Developer fees (he called it "straight levee on rooftops")
Kome stressed that state is reluctant to take on any more projects than those already in process. Hwy 165 is not considered in process at this time.

Second Speaker was Jesse Brown, MCAG. Said that MCAG is responsible for
creating a regional transportation plan for Merced County. Merced County receives federal dollars every year from our tax dollars, but it is all spent on road maintenance. 1.9 million was available and it was all used for maintenance. 2.6 million came from congestion funds but has to be used for transportation issues like mass transportation.
Jesse Brown stated MCAG's reasons for allocating funds:
1. safety
2. congestion
3. leveraging more money from other sources.
4. efficiency
He spoke about Hwy 165 Bypass:
1. Has to be placed in regional transportation plan, which it is.
2. MCAG only has money for project study report (being done now)
3. Next step is the EIR (8 years)
4. Engineering (1 1/2 years)
5. Right of way (2 1/2 years)
6. Build road (3 years)
He said that MCAG has many priorities before Hwy 165 bypass is in top tier. Top tier projects are proposed to be built within the next 20 years. It was in top tier, but because Measure G failed it no longer is. He said that he can guarantee that the soonest it could be built would be at least 20 years and not before that time. Remember Deidre was always saying 10 to 15 years.
Of course, he stressed that we need to become self help. He thanked Hilmar for overwhelmingly voting to pass Measure G. He said the Measure failed in Atwater and Merced so that is where they will put most of their effort this time around.

Then the floor was open to questions. One of the most interesting was a man from Livingston who is on the city council. He brought a map. He said that he and others are proposing to put the highway interchange in Livingston and route 165 bypass people over there to it. Never gonna happen. He had a very fancy aerial map with the plan on it. He thanked Senator Dunham several times for inviting him to come. So it looks like Livingston is gunning for the interchange. There must be a lot of money to be made by putting fast food restaurants and such by those. Look at what Livingston has done at the interchange at the Winton Rest Stop. They are licking their chops for this one too.

I was the last person to go to the microphone to ask a question. None of the previous questions dealt with developments so I had to think how I could tie it in to the issues discussed. I told Denham and the Cal Trans man about all of the master planned developments proposed that would be serviced by Hwy 165. When I mentioned 3,700 homes in Stevinson the Cal Trans man straightened his back, shook his head and frowned. Denham turned his head and looked at the Cal Trans man when this happened. I said that within a 13 mile stretch 11,000 homes are being proposed (Stevinson, Turlock Golf Course, Turlock's platinum triangle) and that traffic would be serviced by a two lane bypass. I said that it is not going to work. There will be too much traffic for a two lane bypass. Then I said how people have told me that you cannot even speak of four lanes because of costs. So, I just said that the numbers do not add up and the two lane bypass is too costly for the service it will provide.

One man said that it takes too long for EIR's. He said they need to shorten the process. He said that once they are done Mrs. Miller does a lawsuit and it takes another two or three years. He said that she did it on the UC Merced and now she is doing it on the racetrack. Kome said that it cannot be shortened because it is the law. The man said they need to change the laws.

Rob Mitchell got up and gave a very good speech about the idiotic idea of self help. He was pretty mad and said that we have already put in our money and that the self help concept is holding money we have already paid hostage until we put more money into the system. He got a large applause with that comment.

After the meeting I stayed around and talked to people. A woman came up and said that she is sure they are not going to use Griffith. She said they will take property off of the backside of people's land between Griffith and Golf.

| »

Sonny Star: full of bull and applepie

Submitted: May 20, 2007
About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction. More than ever, we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. -- Merced Sun-Star, May 19, 2007

This ration of the well-known substance was dished out via Sonny Star, McClatchy's local rent-a-rag, by Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, who began his flak during a breezy week by saying:

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation.

Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. On April 30, the Air District's governing board adopted the first eight-hour ozone plan in California. This overarching and comprehensive plan is designed to help the Valley attain cleaner air, as measured by the federal smog standard, as expeditiously as practicable. The regulatory cost to businesses will be about $20 billion. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air.

Sadredin is willfully confusing the public on behalf of the state regional air board, made up entirely of pro-growth Valley politicians. The board is asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the worst air pollution designation it has to offer, "extreme non-attainment," so that federal highway funds will not be pulled back until developers have all the roads they need for more growth, which will equal more pollution, not however the responsibility of the state board. Presumably, in 2023, Sadredin's two-bit flak successor will be saying our air is even cleaner, but that we must apply for the federal "catastrophic non-attainment" designation so that federal highway funds will not be withdrawn.

As long as the Valley keeps growing, it doesn't matter how many restrictions are placed on stationary-source emissions (mainly farm equipment). It is the cars of the new residents that do the damage. It is the destruction of natural resources to build subdivisions that does the damage.

Until a public coalition actually commits to suing both the federal and state governments simultaneously and is willing to endure the long haul such a suit would entail, nothing will improve and Sonny Star will be printing authoritative "expert" flak about how much cleaner our air is getting every breeze May.

Moving from bull to a related topic, apple pie, we note that righteous members of the local Applepiocracy are suggesting that the CEO of Riverside Motorsparts Pork is really not the proper sort of person we should include in our community. Therefore, the Applepiocrats suggest, the board of supervisors somehow renege on their approval of the RMP permits and zone changes. Because, you see, he is not a nice man. Sonny Star, with his unerring instinct for snobbery and with its contemptuous ignorance of law, is also slinging apple pies at John Condren.

The present public commentary in Merced is filled with bull and apple pie. If this keeps up too much longer, the whole county will be buried by flaky crusted compost (which might be a smoother driving surface than our present streets and roads). And that's just dandy, as long as no one imagines it will stop the increase in air pollution coming to the Valley through "planning" promoted by the University of California, the Merced Association of Governments, the Merced Board of Supervisors, the Merced City Council, the finance, insurance and real estate special interests, the air board and the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint. And, of course, by Sonny Star, who knows which side he's buttered on.

The only black box on the horizon is $5 fuel.

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

5-19-07
Merced Sun-Star
Breathe easier knowing air is cleaner...Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13602031p-14199952c.html

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation. Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air. About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction...we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. By any objective measure, the plan adopted by the air district is a comprehensive effort that leaves no stone unturned...
-------------

5-19-07
Merced Sun-Star
RMP an embarrassment...Marc Medefind, Merced...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13602033p-14199862c.html

Five months ago, the Merced County Board of Supervisors made a decision that rocked the world of citizens who think that clean air, noise restrictions, ag preservation, and traffic concerns should be pre-eminent in the hearts and minds of those they elected to serve. Since then, the "house of cards" known as Riverside Motorsports Park has taken quite a tumble...Sun-Star has published exposés about the background and character of CEO John Condren...documents the seemingly nefarious ways in which he treated both employees and directors. Other articles have exposed the way the RMP Corp. deceived those who were once strong supporters and flouted the laws in Alameda County...paint a picture of an arrogant, egomaniac who apparently did anything to get what he wanted, regardless of statute or ethics. Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron...Where's the money coming from to build this gargantuan track? We still have no answers. Kenny Shepherd ("Advocate to Adversary") once again raised huge questions about character and trust where RMP is concerned...far from rolling in the bucks -- RMP can hardly pay its electric bills. After bamboozling most of Merced County's Supervisors into supporting this farce...milked dry and its directors sent packing...filling local racing fans with dreams of grandeur...overturning common sense ordinances... it doesn't seem too unrealistic that the rezoned land will be sold to investors...Mr. Condren will sail off into the sunset... But maybe that was the plan from day one. Still, it's not too late. Our Supervisors have only to revisit and rescind their unfortunate December decision to prevent this embarrassment from staining our county any further.

| »

Valley hydraulic brotherhood coocaloo as usual

Submitted: Apr 25, 2007

There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation. -- Mike Whitney, Counterpunch.com, April 24, 2007

To effect the San Joaquin River settlement agreement between environmental groups and the Friant Water Users Authority, a congressional bill was required. The amount specified in the December bill was $250 million. McClatchy Washington Bureau reported yesterday that a "long-awaited study" put funding at $500 million to restore water flow through a 50-mile stretch of the river in the middle of Fresno County. Fresno Bee reports today, "Cost to restore river set at $1b," according to the executive director of the west San Joaquin Valley water district, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority. Yesterday a state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee (known to McClatchy as a "Senate panel," not even a legitimate committee), voted against funding two reservoirs in Northern California, one of them the Temperance Flats dam proposal, above the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River.

Hello, world, we are the San Joaquin Valley. We are going through one of our periodic water-madness periods in which it is revealed to the discerning eye that the San Joaquin Valley is nothing but a gigantic public works project for agribusiness and finance, insurance and real estate. We talk like we own it. We don't. The American public paid for most of it.

Consider the official voice of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, for example. The exchange contractors sued the federal government about 50 years ago for building the Friant Dam where the San Joaquin River leaves the Sierra foothills, sending about 90 percent of its water down the east side of the Valley in the Friant-Kern Canal. The federal government thoughtfully built the exchange contractors the Delta-Mendota Canal, which sent San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta water south to the contractors, because cattle baron Henry Miller had good riparian rights to the San Joaquin on the west side and because the Bureau of Reclamation had stolen all the water for the City of Fresno and eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties' growers. Now that federally subsidized water is worth a mint in Los Angeles and Valley cities at municipal retail rates. But, so too the Delta Mendota water, worth municipal millions in fast-growing Los Banos, Patterson, and the "new towns" planned all up and down Interstate Highway 5, the magnificent achievement of Chuck Erreca of Los Banos, chairman of the state Department of Transportation when I-5 was approved in the days of Gov. Pat Brown.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Water Resources is reporting the snow pack hasn't been so low in 30 years, reminding old farmers of the drought of 1976-77, worse than the early 1990s. It serves to remind us that modern California, built on the boundless exploitation of limited natural resources, has never been rationally managed, and this year will be no different.

Consider how $250 million becomes $500 million becomes a billion dollars in a matter of days in McClatchy. Here we haven't even gotten to the next level of congressional debate on the dirty secret of west-side irrigation, that it produces extremely toxic levels of heavy metals and salts to grow its subsidized cotton, the almond orchards of finance, insurance and real estate speculators and federally subsidized ethanol corn -- and it has no place to put the toxic waste from this destructive form of agriculture.

A very powerful political coalition is forming to stop the San Joaquin Valley settlement agreement between farmers and environmentalists. It will probably force the case back into court for a ruling, negating years bargaining work between the farmers and environmentalists. Federal judge Lawrence Karlton has said no one will like how he will rule and it would be far, far better if a good settlement was put into effect. But the lobby of what the great former generation of San Joaquin journalists dubbed "the hydraulic brotherhood" won't let that happen and their little terriers like Rep. Devin Nunes, Water Agency Mouthpiece-Visalia, are yapping. Behind the yappers are other Valley congressmen, Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, for example, quiet in the press but working behind the scenes to derail the settlement agreement. To the hydraulic brotherhood and its minions in public office, there is something obscene about farmers and environmentalists agreeing on anything and, besides, they don't pay the big bucks developers do to fund the magnificent political campaigns among turkeys chosen in advance by the largest landowners and developers in the districts.

The price of letting water flow in the second longest river in California is a pittance compared to the hinky mortgages speculators assumed in the mad home construction boom-and-bust in the San Joaquin Valley as politicians, finance, insurance and real estate special interests seek to convert farms to subdivisions upstream from LA.

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

4-25-07
Fresno Bee
Cost to restore river set at $1b...Mark Grossi
http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/43792.html

The price tag of restoring the San Joaquin River might be $1 billion or more, according to an analysis announced Tuesday night. An official from a west San Joaquin Valley irrigation authority quoted the figure, which differs from other estimates that place the cost closer to $600 million. Environmentalists and east Valley farmers last year ended a long-running lawsuit and agreed to revive the seasonally dry river. The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority, the west-side irrigation group, represents owners of 240,000 farmland acres next to the river. Officials fear their land might be flooded if the restoration isn't done well. "I know the numbers are going to cause controversy," said Steve Chedester, executive director of the authority. "The river basically hasn't existed in one stretch since the 1960s." The restoration project probably is among the biggest in the country, said Bill Loudermilk, regional manager in this area for the state Department of Fish and Game. The restored river will either run through a rebuilt section of the river or the bypass, said Monty Schmitt, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed the lawsuit over the river in 1988. He said no decision has been made yet.

Sacramento Bee
Defeated dams still supported; Governor isn't backing away from $4 billion in bonds after negative vote by Senate panel, By Judy Lin, http://by135w.bay135.mail.live.com/mail/ReadMessageLight.aspx?Aux=4%2c0%2c633131105411770000&FolderID=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&InboxSortAscending=False&InboxSortBy=Date&ReadMessageId=d7772f79-fc83-4424-948d-5ba938593446&n=659198169

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday he has no plans to scale down his $4 billion proposal for building two new dams in the state despite watching Democrats reject his bill earlier in the day.
The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee killed the governor's plan to put bonds for two dams -- one on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and one east of Fresno -- on the 2008 ballot. Senate Bill 59 by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, had Republican support, but couldn't muster the necessary five votes to pass out of the Democrat-led committee...SB 59 called for voters to approve a $3.95 billion plan to build one dam at Temperance Flat just above Friant Dam near Fresno, and the other on Sites reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties. Together the dams would yield up to 3.1 million acre-feet of water. By comparison, Folsom Dam holds about 1 million acre-feet...Opponents led by environmental groups argue that the dams aren't needed as long as Californians continue to conserve. They say the projected cost of constructing the two dams has already increased by 10 percent, from $4 billion to $4.4 billion, and noted that some of the water would be lost due to evaporation.Republicans from the Central Valley counter that there hasn't been new dam construction in the last 25 years while the state's population has grown by 15 million...

4-24-07
Fresno Bee
River price tag put at $500mLawmaker says the restoration cost creates a problem.By Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau -- http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/43412.html

A long-awaited study puts the federal government's cost of restoring the San Joaquin River at $500 million -- raising questions about how to pay for the painstakingly negotiated plan.
One legislator is using the new Congressional Budget Office study in his attempts to derail the proposal to send more water down the river. The additional water would allow the return of long-depleted salmon populations.
"I think the costs are a lot higher than have been advertised, and that's a considerable problem for the bill," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. He has been critical of the restoration plan's possible effect on farmers if less water is available for irrigation.
The plan's supporters retort that the costs aren't unexpected. As they prepare for a May 2 Senate hearing, they will try to shave the cost estimates and identify the necessary offsetting savings.
"We've known for some time that we had a [budget] issue," Dan Dooley, an attorney for the Friant Water Users Authority, said Friday. "Until this report, we didn't have the specifics, but I'm confident we'll work through it."
The bill language itself only specifies $250 million in spending. The new cost estimate adds other required environmental spending, as well as the loss of federal tax revenue from California bonds that would be sold to help pay for the project as part of the state's share of funding.
Farmers and environmentalists differ over what the final total cost will be, with estimates ranging from between $600 million and $1.2 billion.
New rules in place under Democratic leadership require congressional spending to be balanced with additional revenues or with new savings. The San Joaquin River bill is one of the first natural resources bills to confront the new pay-as-you-go budget requirements.
In coming weeks, river restoration supporters will confront the political challenge of identifying other programs to trim so that the San Joaquin River might live.
"Good luck," Nunes said. "Who are they going to cut?" ...

April 24, 2007
Counterpunch.com
"Is It Too Late to Get Out?"
Housing Bubble Boondoggle
By MIKE WHITNEY

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson delivered an upbeat assessment of the slumping real estate market on Friday saying, "All the signs I look at" show "the housing market is at or near the bottom."
Baloney.
Paulson added that the meltdown in subprime mortages was not a "serious problem. I think it's going to be largely contained."
Wrong again.
Paulson knows full well that the housing market is headed for a crash and probably won't bounce back for the next 4 or 5 years. That's why Congress is slapping together a bailout package that will keep struggling homeowners out of foreclosure. If defaults keep skyrocketing at the present rate they are liable to bring the whole economy down in a heap.
Last week, the Senate convened the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer. The committee's job is to develop a strategy to keep delinquent subprime mortgage holders in their homes. It may look like the congress is looking out for the little guy, but that's not the case. As Schumer noted, "The subprime mortgage meltdown has economic consequences that will ripple through our communities unless we act."
Schumer's right. The repercussions of millions of homeowners defaulting on their loans could be a major hit for Wall Street and the banking sector. That's what Schumer is worried about---not the plight of over-leveraged homeowners.
Every day now, another major lending institution unveils its plan for bailing out the housing market. Citigroup and Bank of America have joined forces to create the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America which will provide $1 billion for the rescue of subprime loans. This will allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages and keep them out of foreclosure. The new "30- year loans will carry a fixed interest rate one point below the prime rate, putting it currently at 5.5 percent. There are no fees, and the banks pay all the closing costs."
But why are the banks being so generous if, as Paulson says, "the housing market is at or near the bottom." This proves that the Treasury Secretary is full of malarkey and that the problem is much bigger than he's letting on.
Last week, Washington Mutual announced a $2 billion program to slow foreclosures (Washington Mutual's subprime segment lost $164 million in the first quarter) while Freddie Mac committed a whopping $20 billion to the same goal. In fact, Freddie Mac announced that it "would stretch the loan term to a maximum of 40 years from the current 30-year limit."
40 years!?! How about a 60 or 80 year mortgage?
Can you sense the desperation? And yet, Paulson says he doesn't see the subprime meltdown as a "serious problem"!
Paulson's comments have had no effect on the Federal Reserve. The Fed has been frantically searching for a strategy that will deal with the rising foreclosures. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that "Federal bank regulators called on lenders to work with distressed borrowers unable to meet payments on high-risk mortgages to help them keep their homes".
Huh?
When was the last time the feds ordered the privately-owned banks to rewrite loans?
Never--that's when.
That gives us some idea of how bad things really are. The details of the meltdown are being downplayed in the media to prevent panic-selling among the public. But the Fed knows what's going on. They know that "U.S. mortgage default rates hit an all-time high in the first quarter of 2007" and that "the percentage of mortgages in default rose to a record 2.87%". In fact, the Federal Reserve and the five other federal agencies that regulate banks issued this statement just last week:
"Prudent workout arrangements that are consistent with safe and sound lending practices are generally in the long-term best interest of both the financial institution and the borrowerInstitutions will not face regulatory penalties if they pursue reasonable workout arrangements with borrowers."
Translation: "Rewrite the loans! Promise them anything! Just make sure they remain shackled to their houses!"
Unfortunately, the problem won't be "fixed" with a $30 or $40 billion bailout scheme. The problem is much bigger than that. There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation.
Kenneth Heebner, manager of CGM Realty Fund (Capital Growth Management), provided a realistic forecast of what we can expect in the near future as defaults increase.
Heebner: "The Greatest Price Decline in Housing since the Great Depression" (Bloomberg News interview)
"The real wave of pain and foreclosures is just beginning.subprimes and Alt-A are both in trouble. A lot of these will go into default. The reason is, that the people who took these out never really intended to fully service the mortgage---they were counting on rising home prices so they could sign on the dotted line without showing what their income was and then 2 years later flip into another junk mortgage and get a big profit out of the house with putting anything down
"There's a $1.5 trillion in subprimes and $1 trillion in Alt-A the catalyst will be declining house prices which is already underway. But as we get a large amount of these $2.5 trillion mortgages go into default, we'll see foreclosed houses dumped on an already weak market where homebuilders are already struggling to sell there houses. The price declines which have started will continue and may even accelerate in some of the hotter markets. I would expect that housing prices in "2007 will decline 20% in a lot of markets".
"What you are going to see is the greatest price decline in housing since the Great Depression..The one thing that people should not do, is go near a CDO or a residential mortgage backed security rated Triple A by Moody's and S&P because these are going to get down-graded by the hundreds of millions---because they are secured by subprime and Alt-A mortgages where there'll be massive defaults".
Question: "Will the losses in the mortgage market exceed those in the S&L crisis?"
Heebner: "They're going to dwarf those losses because the losses could easily approach $1 trillion---that dwarfs anything that has ever happened. Enron was $100 billion---this will be far greater than that..The good news is that most of these loans are owned by Hedge FundsYou hedge funds buying these subprime and Alt-A loans and leveraging them at 10 to 1. They buy a pool of mortgages at 8% and they borrow against it in yen for 3% and then lever it at 10 to 1so you have a lucrative profit And the hedge fund you are running, the manager is going to get 20% of the gain---so even if it's a year before you go broke; you get rich until the fund is shut down".
Heebner added this instructive comment: "The brokerage firms created "securitization" they know the products are toxic. I don't think they are going to suffer losses; they simply passed them on to everyone else. The only impact this will have is the profits that flow from it will get less.But it is less than 3% of revenues in even the most exposed brokerage firm so THEY'RE NOT GOING TO GET CAUGHT" ...

| »

Clods at the wheel

Submitted: Apr 21, 2007
The California Transportation Commission distributed $975 million of the fund, created when voters approved Proposition 1B in November. San Joaquin County received $282.4 million...San Joaquin County's share is the biggest. Among regions through which Highway 99 runs, only Merced County landed nearly as much, with $248.3 million. -- Stockton Record, 3-16-07

They haven't even learned yet how to project in public anything but blind greed by fleecing the people. It is their only tune.

Merced Sun-Star editorialists opine that if Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, had only supported Measure G -- to raise our sales taxes to pay for the UC Campus Parkway, Highway 99,and maybe some other things (in that order) -- she would have a better chance to get funds for a G Street underpass beneath the railroad tracks on the north side of Merced. The clods then go on to analyse Galgiani's inner mind, claiming she opposed Measure G not to appear to be a "tax and spend liberal" while facing a "weak" Republican opponent. The only problem with that critical link in their argument is that Gerry Machado was an unexpectedly strong opponent. He worked hard, campaigned intensely and was a credible candidate.

I've reconsidered what I earlier wrote about this editorial, which strikes me as nothing but sour grapes and refried Gingrich babble. Three measures on this subject have failed. The last one, Measure G, failed more than a month before the Board of Supervisors passed the Riverside Motorsports Park project, designed to bring in up to 50,000 spectators from 100 miles around for major auto-racing events. Maybe business, political and media leaders who supported it at crucial times should not have approved it without a better grip on where the funds for transportation improvements would come from. It's like building subdivisions all over the state without checking to see if there really is enough water or not.

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

4-21-07
Merced Sun-Star
Fighting an uphill battle...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13508896p-14115138c.html

Newly minted Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, has spent a good portion of her time in Sacramento fighting tooth and nail for funding for a railroad underpass at G Street in Merced. But we can't help but wonder: Where was Galgiani on this issue last year? Instead of fighting for passage of Measure G, which would have just about paid for an underpass, Galgiani was opposing it out of fear her weak Republican challenger would brand her a tax-and-spend liberal. We didn't understand the wisdom of Galgiani's thinking on the Measure G topic back then -- and we still don't today... doubly puzzling given most prominent area Republicans were solidly behind Measure G. Its narrow and devastating defeat possibly could have been averted if political leaders like Galgiani had galvanized behind it. Now, she's fighting an uphill battle for funds that are more likely to go to counties that have passed their own self-help tax increases like Measure G would have done for us. For our sake, let's hope Galgiani is successful. If so, she will have taken a step to redeem herself among the vocal Measure G supporters who were angered by her opposition.

3-16-07
Stockton Record
Transit bond funds approved

The county's bid for more than a quarter of the $1 billion bond fund dedicated to improvements on Highway 99 was approved Thursday.
The California Transportation Commission distributed $975 million of the fund, created when voters approved Proposition 1B in November. San Joaquin County received $282.4 million...San Joaquin County's share is the biggest. Among regions through which Highway 99 runs, only Merced County landed nearly as much, with $248.3 million.

| »

April 12, 2007: Day in the life of the north San Joaquin Valley

Submitted: Apr 12, 2007

A strong, chilly wind is blowing in the north San Joaquin Valley today, stirring up an enormous amount of dust coming in part from graded but unfinished subdivisions, as the financial, insurance and real estate industry hunkers down for an explosion of mortgage default.

But, poetry aside, the news of the day is as gritty as the sight of tons of topsoil blowing away from the county.

The Merced Sun-Star editorialists have returned to wearing their other hats as editors of the UC Daily Bobcat, once again flakking for the institution where one administrator is currently serving 60 days for forgery and theft. In their opinion, we should all go out to the UC Merced to celebrate Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival. Last year's UCM Fairy Shrimp Festival was a dud, so the UC bobcatflaksters renamed it, evidently hoping the mammalian charm of cuddly bobcat mascot, Baby Boy, would overwhelm the feckless hauteur of the endangered crustaceans.

When it comes to wildlife, UC believes its right to exploit is above the law. It broke every regulation and practice on the care of wildlife when it appropriated its little mascot, found mysteriously in a paper bag outside the city zoo more than a year ago. He should have gone to a rehabilitation center certified for bobcats in Morgan Hill. Instead, he was stolen by UC Merced in violation of a number of regulations established by the state Department of Fish and Game, which that institution of easy virtue did not enforce. As for the fairy shrimp, even as UC pretends to celebrate vernal pools and the 15 federally endangered species that inhabit them, including the shrimp, in the densest fields of vernal pools in the nation that surround the campus site, UC lawyers are working ceaselessly behind the scenes to undermine the federal Clean Water Act provisions that would prevent UC Merced from expanding and destroying the vernal pools and the fairy shrimp. With that level of propaganda coming out of the UC Merced administration, the public wonders how much truth is taught in the classrooms. To suppose there was no connection between the propaganda and the instruction is naive.

UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June,

the UC Daily Bobcat announces, in another article that appears to be news but is just more propaganda. We think the UCM bobcatflaksters have a schedule made up at least a year in advance detailing the release of stories about how UCM administrators are developing this med school. Who can be against a med school? Right? Except, doesn't UC Davis -- also located, despite UC Merced flak, in Central California -- also have a med school? Why would it not expand its own medical services, as it has recently done as far away from Davis as Willits? Isn't the problem with medical services in the Valley the same as it is throughout the nation, rapacious insurance companies, aided and abetted in the latest Medicare "Reform" Act by the Valley's own former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield? Does the Valley really need another research medical facility, in the announced case of UC Merced, focused on respiratory diseases? UC Merced has precipitated the biggest speculative growth boom in local history, bringing with it immeasurable increases in air pollution. It appropriated the bobcat for sentiment; it wants to appropriate the vernal pools for its ediface complex; and it wants to appropriate our lungs for research grants.

Speaking of our lungs, UC Merced's partner within the UC system, UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, confessed recently that its bomb-testing activities on Site 300 near Tracy will put depleted uranium in the air. Perhaps UC Merced telemedical facilities on the west side will be able to measure how much depleted uranium will travel how far and how deadly its effects are, neatly broken down into ethnic cohorts. This sort of information will be of use to the Pentagon and UC will be able to get grants to study it, no doubt.

Not satisfied with terrorizing the north San Joaquin Valley with depleted uranium bomb drift, the UC Livermore lab is on the short list to locate the most dangerous type of biological warfare lab (Level 4) on the same site . The UC Livermore lab is in court with Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment, which sued over establishment in Livermore of a Level 3 lab. In testimony for the court, the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration provided this useful bit of information:

"it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks..."

The Level 4 lab UC Livermore wants to establish near Tracy would be called a National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, "which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants..."

In light of the world health threat posed by Avian Flu, it is an interesting choice of locations because the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds intersects in these counties with the largest concentration of poultry in the state. Assuming the wild, migratory birds to be the vector from Asia, where the virus is florishing, it seems likely, despite excellent bio-security at our modern poultry facilities, infection from the wild to the domestic could take place. Presumably, the proximity of the biolab would help the poultry industry deal more quickly with an epidemic, which in turn might help protect people in the vicinity. On the other hand, in the event of a "catastrophic accident" in the lab, or a terrorist attack on it, Avian Flu would be the least of our worries, down wind from Ebola, etc. We could have a biological Chernobyl on our hands?

We aren't supposed to ask that question because if we get scared, defense experts tell us, they -- the terrorists -- have already won.

But, don't worry: UC medical researchers in space suits would be right there to study your final moments and you would have made your personal contribution to research science. Maybe there will be a plaque over your mass gravesite.

That's just downright cynical, some would say. By not wanting this lab in our backyards, they would go on, we are preventing valuable scientific discovery and defeating our technological edge in this important field. Defense experts would go on to say that biological warfare is in our future and labs like these will have to produce the antidotes to weapons genetically engineered. And they will have do so quickly. And that's all we can know about it because the rest is secret for reasons of national security. We Americans must become "resilient" to terrorist attacks, the experts say. Like we were after 9/11? We were so resilient that in addition to having put our "footprints" on the "arc of instability" (aka Muslim nations with oil) we restricted habeas corpus, the oldest liberty we had -- not the acts of a people resilient either economically or politically. Given our national experience, what can we expect from the combination of universities, corporations and the government in response to more terrorist attacks but more autocracy, militarism and corruption? Given our local experience, can we expect this university to tell the truth about anything?

In other news of the day, Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student-loan sharks, have agreed to quit bribing college administrators in charge of advising students and their parents on where to get the student loans. This is a staggering ethical achievement. Sally Mae began in 1972 as a government program, but, as its website puts it, "The company began privatizing its operations in 1997, a process it completed at the end of 2004 when the company terminated its ties to the federal government." The investigation began in New York. Colleges and universities (UC loudest of all) bray about the personal and national necessity of higher education for one and all, leading the cattle to the financial slaughter while taking kickbacks. We will just have to wait and see which UC administrators were in on the deal. USC has already been hit with a scandal.

Here in Merced, the stink from local law enforcement is still rising, after all these months. A local criminal defense attorney, John Garcia, has filed a civil suit in Merced Superior Court, adding former DA Gordon Spencer to a list of respondents including the DA's office, Merced County and the Merced County Sheriff's Office. The suit alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and civic rights violation arising from what appears to be a drug sting operation. We can find no word on the Richard Byrd v. County of Merced, et. al. case filed in July 2006 in federal district court in Fresno. In that case, Byrd, a former local policeman, alleged that some of the same characters Garcia is suing bilked him out of a valuable piece of property while he was in the county jail on trumped up charges. Either Spencer was a sloppily corrupt public official or the Sun-Star got involved in a (prize-winning) witch hunt that produced no convictions. So far, the jury is still out unless the Byrd suit was settled so quietly the Sun-Star missed it.

The Modesto Bee is up in arms about mortgage foreclosures and beating the drums for federal assistance to homeowners. What McClatchy really means is a federal bailout for finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Mortgage lenders, focusing on areas like Stockton, Modesto and Merced, among other vulnerable locations in the nation (Atlanta and South Texas, for example), went on a feeding frenzy under the banner of "Freedom through Home Ownership," babbled daily in the press and in every other media outlet in the land. The "lending industry," as banks and other financial institutions like hedge funds and derivative ghouls are called these days, bought bundles of these loans, including a lot of bad paper. Now, they are crying to the federal government -- on behalf of the poor homeowners, naturally. The only question here is if the bailout of these obscenely wealthy speculators will be larger than the savings and loan bailout. If the experience of six years of Bush is any indication, the homeowning victims of predatory lending practices will get the shaft.

A desperate bit of flak from the state Department of Water Resources yesterday prefaces our next story:

“The Department of Water Resources has long been committed to balancing water operations with protection of the Delta environment,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “Today’s court filing underscores the department’s ongoing efforts to protect these resources, our actions to comply with the court’s findings, and the long term strategy to restore Delta ecosystems while ensuring reliable water supplies to the 25 million Californians served by the State Water Project.”

DWR sensitivity to the dying Delta ecosystem is so overwhelming that it filed with the Alameda Superior Court yesterday to do what it can to modify the judge's draft order to fix the environmental disaster caused by the state's systematic overpumping the Delta for the last four years. DWR enlisted the state Department of Fish and Game in its desperate plea. Once the judge issues a final order, DWR has 60 days to fix the problem. As the fish die and water rationing begins, there is bound to be an extraordinary display of sophistry. However, we think the last word has already been spoken by the original petitioner, Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. The state, he said, was "refrying the egg."

Meanwhile, The Bush pulled back another nomination for a top position at the Environmental Protection Agency, sensing it might have some problems in Congress. Nevertheless, the administration and a nation that spent the weekend dithering about Iran and Imus while the UN's report on global warming was ignored, especially that bit about human agency.

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

4-12-07
Merced Sun-Star
Time to mingle with Bobcats...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/ourview/story/13479121p-14088905c.html

Merced area residents will have a golden opportunity this weekend to get to know their recent neighbors to the north...Saturday's Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival represent a chance for Mercedians to get to know the almost brand-new UC Merced campus and the people who live and work there, as well as have some fun in the process. For the uninitiated, the Golden Bobcat is the school's mascot and vernal pools surrounding the campus are home to fairy shrimp. Events at the North Lake Road campus are free and open to the public... arts and crafts fair...vendors, live bands, performers and family-oriented presentations...public tours. Can't you visualize a 6-year-old deciding he wants to attend UC Merced when he grows up, based on the fun and inspiration he soaked up while visiting the campus with his mother, father and siblings? That could happen and we hope it does. The once-a-year event will allow UC Merced students and faculty to get to know local residents and people who have never visited the university to learn what it has to offer. Students trying to figure out their future academic direction certainly could gain some insight on programs and options at UC Merced... Let's bridge the distance between UC Merced and the city by enjoying Bobcat Day and the Fairy Shrimp Festival.

UC Merced plans to build high-tech health centers...Victor A. Patton
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13479084p-14088947c.html

UC Merced administrators say plans are in motion to establish a series of health centers in the San Joaquin Valley that would improve access to health care in underserved areas...the school has received a $225,000 state grant to jump-start plans to create four telemedicine centers, also referred to as "eHealth Centers." Telemedicine centers generally use videoconferencing equipment to transmit a patient's medical information and images from relatively remote areas to doctors and specialists in other areas of the state...centers also allow doctors in different areas to have live videoconferencing discussions about their patient's health -- even if they are hundreds of miles apart. University officials have not decided where the centers will be located since the plan is in its preliminary stages... Doctors from UC Davis and UC San Francisco will be providing some of the medical expertise. UC Merced is partnering with administrators at UC Davis to help develop the centers, since UC Davis was one of the first entities to establish its own telemedicine program in 1996. Establishing the telemedicine centers fits with UC Merced's ambitions to eventually establish a medical school at the campus. UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June. If the plan is approved by UC regents, the state legislature would then decide whether to fund the medical school.

Stockton Record
Livermore lab says bigger blasts would send depleted uranium into air...Jake Armstrong
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/A_NEWS/704120321

Bigger outdoor blasts proposed at an explosives test range southwest of Tracy could release up to 453 pounds of depleted uranium into the air a year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials told air pollution regulators in an application last week. Lab officials did not disclose that information in a November request to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District... The district initially granted the lab permission, but revoked the permit in March after learning the blasts would contain radioactive materials. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium, and when detonated, it would be carried by wind, said Gretchen Gallegos, of the lab's Operations and Regulatory Affairs Division. The lab has not found radiation levels above federal thresholds at its monitoring stations, she said. "All of our activities are well within any health measure, and there's nothing to be concerned about," Gallegos said. Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials will tour Site 300 Monday to further evaluate the University of California's proposal to locate there the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants. The visit is part of a nationwide tour of 18 sites vying for the federal laboratory. DHS officials will then shorten the list of proposals, conduct environmental reviews of the finalists, and decide on a site in October 2008.

San Francisco Chronicle
Livermore...'Unlikely' attack at lab could release microbes, study says...Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/12/BAGDDP78DN1.DTL&hw=livermore+lab&sn=004&sc=1000

U.S. Energy Department draft environmental assessment study concludes that a direct terrorist assault on the facility is "highly unlikely" to succeed. But because it acknowledges local activists' concerns that catastrophic accidents are possible, it is now up the lab critics who have sued to block the opening of the facility to consider whether to pursue further court action, including a possible order to stop the Livermore lab from opening the microbe facility. The Livermore site already has a lower-level lab for investigating microbial diseases, but the proposed new Biosafety Level 3 lab -- dubbed BSL3 for short -- would store microbes of medieval scariness. They include plague, botulism and Q fever, a bacterial disease that in its more virulent form, chronic Q fever, kills up to 65 percent of its victims...proposed lab would also investigate anthrax. In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Energy Department to conduct the environmental study following a suit by Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Construction of the facility was finished in 2005, but it hasn't opened pending the completion of litigation. On Wednesday, lab critics responded with scorn to the long-awaited, 80-page environmental study. The study was released by the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration...environmental study acknowledges that "dramatic human health impacts and economic disruption can result following the release of pathogenic materials...also says "it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks. The number of scenarios is large, and the likelihood of any type of attack is unknowable."...study does not describe any potential scenarios for terrorist attacks "because disclosure of this information could be exploited by terrorists to plan attacks." Ironically, the report includes a map showing the precise location of the microbe lab, in Building 360 on the Livermore lab site. Public feedback is welcome through May 11. Afterward, the Energy Department will issue a final version of the environmental assessment.

Modesto Bee
Sallie Mae settles, agrees to school-lending ethics...Karen Matthews
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13479198p-14089044c.html

The nation's largest student loan provider will stop offering perks to college employees as part of a settlement announced Wednesday in a widening probe of the student loan industry. SLM Corp., commonly known as Sallie Mae, also agreed to pay $2 million into a fund to educate students and parents about the financial aid industry, and it will adopt a code of conduct created by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is heading the probe. Cuomo said the expanding investigation of the $85 billion student loan industry has found numerous arrangements that benefited schools and lenders at the expense of students. Investigators say lenders have provided all-expense-paid trips to exotic locations for college financial aid officers who then directed students to the lenders. Sallie Mae is the second lender to agree to the code, which is aimed at making the loan process more transparent. Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank, which does business at about 3,000 schools, last week agreed to donate $2 million to the same fund as part of a settlement with the attorney general's office.

Byrd sues on civil rights violations, Badlandsjournal.com, 7-28-07

Former D.A. added to civil rights lawsuit...Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13479083p-14088942c.html

A local criminal defense attorney who said he was the victim of a failed interagency drug sting last year has added former Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer to his civil lawsuit...is accused of working with a state agent and a Merced sheriff's deputy to have a man give lawyer John Garcia, 64, a bag of methamphetamine disguised as tobacco. Drug agents then got a judge to let them search Garcia and his office. No charges were filed in connection with the Feb. 6, 2006, undercover sting operation that Garcia said violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, damaged his reputation and caused him emotional distress. The lawsuit, refiled on April 5 to accuse Spencer, also names Taylor, Cardwood, the District Attorney's Office, Merced County and its sheriff's department, and the city of Merced and its police department. Garcia is seeking an unspecified amount of money in the Merced County Superior Court case that alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and a civil rights violation.

Modesto Bee
Realtors: Housing slump will worsen in 2007...Alan Zibel and Dan Caterinicchia, AP
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13479195p-14089041c.html

Key Senate Democrats issued a report Wednesday detailing the housing market's decline amid calls for federal aid to homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The report from New York Democrat Charles Schumer, chair of the Joint Economic Committee, came on the same day that the nation's trade group for Realtors offered new projections that the housing slump is worsening. The National Association of Realtors said the national median price for existing homes would decline this year for the first time since 1968 on the same day an activist nonprofit called on Wall Street to help homeowners restructure their mortgage loans. Across town, senators called for the government to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to help at-risk homeowners. NAR predicting the median price for existing homes nationwide will drop 0.7 percent...estimated existing home sales will fall 2.2 percent... As 1.8 million adjustable rate mortgages reset to higher rates this year and next, foreclosures are sure to continue rising, the 32-page report from the JEC said. The Federal Housing Administration could be revamped to refinance mortgages in danger of default, the JEC's report said... Lawmakers also are talking up proposals to strengthen federal regulation of mortgages, impose a national ban on predatory lending practices among all lenders and require those lenders to establish a borrower's ability to pay back a mortgage loan through the life of the loan, not just for two or three years. Rising delinquencies and defaults among borrowers have resulted in more than two dozen so-called subprime lenders going out of business, moving into bankruptcy protection or putting themselves up for sale.

Stockton Record
Water officials: Judge's ruling went overboard...Alex Breitler and Hank Shaw
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/A_NEWS/704120333

The Department of Water Resources filed its official response to a March 22 court ruling that, when finalized, could reduce water supplies for 25 million people from Livermore to Los Angeles. In a series of three dozen objections, the state reasserted its claim that older agreements allow it to kill threatened Delta smelt and salmon at the Banks Pumping Plant, even without an official permit under state law. Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow in a statement said Wednesday's court filing underscores a long-term strategy to restore the Delta while ensuring future water supplies. Bill Jennings, whose California Sportfishing Protection Alliance brought the lawsuit that culminated with Roesch's ruling, said the state was "refrying the egg." "They're trying to reopen the case," Jennings said. "The judge provided a brief period of time to comment on the proposed order, not to reargue the entire case." Among its objections, the state said the word "massive" used by the judge to describe the amount of water shipped south is inaccurate and subject to misinterpretation. And a reference to "significant" numbers of fish killed at the pumps is ambiguous and ignores the state's attempts to save fish and replace those that are killed. Snow's solution presented Monday was to ask the state Department of Fish and Game to determine that the pumps comply with state law, based on federal biological opinions. This "consistency determination" would be the quickest way to obey the judge's order, he said. Fish and Game has 30 days to make that determination. The 60-day pump shutdown clock, meanwhile, would begin ticking when Roesch issues his final ruling, Jennings said. Committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, asked the officials why they chose to ask for a consistency determination rather than go through the normal process. Broddrick said this way is far faster and will in effect mirror the rules the federal government relies on to operate its own set of giant water pumps in the area. Steinberg wanted to know why the state would rely on the federal rules. He asked Broddrick if those rules were in dispute. "They certainly are," Broddrick said, referring to an active lawsuit similar to the one that threatens the state pumps. "So how do we reconcile that one?" Steinberg asked. They cannot, Broddrick acknowledged. Essentially, the state is playing double-or-nothing: If the federal lawsuit invalidates the rules governing the federal pumps, and the state's "consistency determination" relies on those federal rules, then the courts could shut down both sets of pumps.

Good to the last drop...Steve Rubenstein
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/12/BAGDDP78EG1.DTL&hw=water&sn=007&sc=996
It must be serious...Rain and snow were so sporadic this winter that water could be scarce this summer. Water districts around the state have begun calling for "voluntary conservation... Unfortunately, many of the water-conservation tricks from past droughts will no longer work. Voluntary conservation is the official term for the step before mandatory conservation, also known as rationing. On Wednesday, San Francisco water officials warned that if things get dire over the summer, rationing is possible...

Reuters
Warming Could Spark N. American Water Scramble: U.N.
by Timothy Gardner
http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/12/477/

NEW YORK - Climate change could diminish North American water supplies and trigger disputes between the United States and Canada over water reserves already stressed by industry and agriculture, U.N. experts said on Wednesday.More heat waves like those that killed more than 100 people in the United States in 2006, storms like the killer hurricanes that struck the Gulf of Mexico in 2005 and wildfires are likely in North America as temperatures rise, according to a new report that provided regional details on a U.N. climate panel study on global warming issued in Brussels on April 6...

Washington Post
White House pulls nomination to top EPA air post...Chris Baltimore, Reuters
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/11/AR2007041101710.html

The White House on Wednesday withdrew its choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution office after he ran afoul of key U.S. lawmakers. William Wehrum, nominated to head the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, was the architect of rules to regulate harmful power plant emissions that environmental groups and many Democrats blasted as too lenient. The White House withdrew Wehrum's nomination, along with that of Alex Beehler, its pick to be the EPA's Inspector General, in a routine personnel announcement. Rather than face near-certain rejection from Boxer's committee, the White House withdrew the nominations.

| »

The MacDonald Affair

Submitted: Mar 31, 2007

Having observed and commented on the corruption of local, state and federal environmental law in this region for nearly a decade, the recent hoopla surrounding Julia MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Department of Interior, is not news. We met MacDonald shortly after her appointment as aide to Judge Craig Manson, the assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, in 2002. She urged us to get in touch. We think we have her card somewhere.

Locally, we see it as being within the general context of another spring offensive by finance, insurance, real estate and the Bush regime against the San Joaquin Valley. We are going into a drought, Bush is losing his war, and the local speculative housing boom is collapsing, generating skyrocketing foreclosure rates and some class-action suits on building defects. However, as we have said since they stole the Florida election in 2000, these people crossed their Rubicon and have had nowhere to go since but straight into the public's face.
The Badlands editorial staff honestly admits that MacDonald's corruptions would be quite beyond our scope if any of Interior's Inspector General's report were news to us. But we've covered most of it when her meddling and bullying first appeared. It's all back there in the archives somewhere and we will dig it out at the appropriate times. Meanwhile, she's a certifiable California "waterperson." She went after Klamath Bull Trout to help Rove do his stunt in the Klamath basin before the 2004 election; she went after the San Joaquin Delta Smelt, when heavy pumping caused by Interior's brokered Colorado River Agreement meant Southern California would have to get more water from the Delta; she went after seasonal wetlands and vernal pools and California Tiger Salamanders, all local issues here in the Pombozastan. We reported it all as it was happening.

However, that said, we were titillated by MacDonald's intimate relations with the California Farm Bureau and Pacific Legal Foundation, on the same ideological page: private property's right to public water.

On the other hand, the changes proposed by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to the Endangered Species Act, a story that appeared a day earlier, is news. A story of human sacrifice, particularly of a woman, is cool, but the dry, bureaucratic language of the proposed ESA changes are meanwhile concealed. Yet, these proposals capture the worst aspects of the Pomboza bill to gut the ESA in the last session, which aroused so much anger in the environmental community that, with help from former Rep. Pete McCloskey, they defeated Pombo at the polls. Furthermore, they would turn over many key ESA decisions to governors. In California, where the governor and the Legislature is actually owned by finance, insurance and real estate special interests, you could kiss some species goodbye if this proposal passes judicial review. As a recently retired Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species specialist put it, the reason we have federal protections for endangered species is because the states will not protect them.

The Bush regime is consistent, if nothing else, and that consistency has fallen heavily on the San Joaquin Valley. The other federal proposal-of-the-month of special impact is the idea of privatizing the heavy-metal laden water of the San Joaquin Valley west side, including giving the water districts partial ownership of the San Luis Reservoir. This is the Bush regime solution to upcoming review of the selenium situation around Kesterson.

Of course, there is a connection between this story and the MacDonald Affair. She's a genuine California water girl.

But, our question is: was she any worse than the Cowgirl Chancellor of UC Merced, who built the first phase of the beloved boondoggle without the required federal permits, quit her job (along with a number of other of her starting team), and dropped a regulatory mess in her successors' laps and a bigger mess in the community's lap. If MacDonald was in the air in Washington, the Cowgirl was right here on the ground, building that anchor tenant for one of the greatest, most destructive speculative real estate booms in the nation. Nor has the attempt by UC to corrupt environmental law and regulation at every level of government by its lobbyists, administrators, lawyers, politicians like Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced and the regional finance, insurance and real estate special interests stopped. These interests will destroy California's fragile water-delivery system in order to save their profits. A key step in that is to get public attention off endangered species that in any way appear to interfere with delivery of paper water through the Delta pumps via crumbling levees. The collapsing housing bubble only encourages them.

There is a rough equivalence between the endangered species menaced by MacDonald's policies and the misery of students at UC Merced, which is today a sort of developer's model home of a university, with decorative students in residence (not all of them expiring in the shrubbery). However, like the endangered species, about which the Cowgirl's rhetoric was just fine, the students are not there for display; they want a life, too.

Nope. We admit the corruption of the federal government and the University of California, in full color, is too much for our humble descriptive abilities. We'll leave the job to the mainstream press. Its reporters are well-rested after seven years on a vacation from reality. Let them "investigate" and give each other prizes.

Meanwhile we will ask why Judge Manson was rewarded for his crimes against Nature with an appointment to McGeorge Law School. McGeorge needs some looking into, actually. Its dean is a former general counsel for the CIA. What's going on there? Why did UC Boalt Hall hire John Yoo, author of the torture-justifying memo during his years as counsel to the president?

And, isn't the timing of the MacDonald story and the ESA changes interesting? How much do top Fish and Wildlife Service officials support the Bush proposals? FWS Director Dale Hale appears, in the Inspector General's report, to be the epitome of a guardian of pure biology in the MacDonald Affair stories, while simultaneously trying to squelch any news about the new ESA rules. Are we headed for a "show hearing" at the House Natural Resources Committee in May on MacDonald, while the ESA changes wend their unnoticed way through the Bush regime "process"?

Will the next proposal for rule changes coming from the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service be to privatize all the wildlife refuges in the nation?

We might also ask -- from the ground here in UC/Great Valley Center/Pombozastan, home of a state "blueprint" for growth along the lines indicated by Pombo Family Real Estate Farms -- how soon will UC give up on UC Merced and move it to Tracy, which wants a college, where it can be absorbed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Level-4 Biowarfare Lab and the Tsakopoulos family's Hellenic studies programs? Our nation needs genetic technologists who can create the biological weapons of the future (and, of course, their antidotes) while simultaneously learning to conjugate irregular Greek verbs and reading a bit of Jaeger's Paideia. Don't it? Ain't that the kind of "shared experience" we need?

How long will it be before the next Peripheral Canal proposal surfaces to convey paper water in a drought to Southern California? Before or after the next levee break?

It is the very bravest of new worlds possible, my dear Calaban. How's the asthma?

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

3-28-07
New York Times
Proposed changes would shift duties in protecting species...Felicity Barringer
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/washington/28habitat.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering limiting the ability of federal wildlife protection agencies to intervene on behalf of endangered species that may be harmed by federal actions...would also increase the role of state governments in administering some of the species protections that are now the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. H. Dale Hall...said Tuesday that the draft proposal detailing the changes was “really a beginning of a process.” "It had all options on the table,” Mr. Hall said. “It really doesn’t represent anything that we support or don’t support.” Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with the Seattle office of Earthjustice, an environmental group, said that he had obtained a copy of the draft proposal from a federal official, and that it was created in June but had been edited as recently as a month ago. “I certainly don’t think that anyone ever contemplated a wholesale delegation of fundamental duties” to the states, Mr. Hasselman said. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed legislation amending the act when he was a senator from Idaho, and more drastic changes were proposed in the last Congress in an unsuccessful bill.

3-27-07
Salon
Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act
Proposed regulatory changes, obtained by Salon, would destroy the "safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction," say environmentalists.
By Rebecca Clarren

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is maneuvering to fundamentally weaken the Endangered Species Act, its strategy laid out in an internal 117-page draft proposal obtained by Salon. The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

"The proposed changes fundamentally gut the intent of the Endangered Species Act," says Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, who helped Salon interpret the proposal. "This is a no-holds-barred end run around one of America's most popular environmental protections. If these regulations stand up, the act will no longer provide a safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction."

In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: "Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation."

Many Fish and Wildlife Service employees believe the draft is not based on "defensible science," says a federal employee who asked to remain anonymous. Yet "there is genuine fear of retaliation for communicating that to the media. People are afraid for their jobs."

Chris Tollefson, a spokesperson for the service, says that while it's accurate to
characterize the agency as trying to keep the draft under wraps, the agency has every intention of communicating with the public about the proposed changes; the draft just hasn't been ready. And, he adds, it could still be changed as part of a forthcoming formal review process.

Administration critics characterize the secrecy as a way to maintain spin control, says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. "This administration will often release a 300-page-long document at a press conference for a newspaper story that will go to press in two hours, giving the media or public no opportunity to digest it and figure out what's going on," Suckling says. "[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne will give a feel-good quote about how the new regulations are good for the environment, and they can win the public relations war."

In some ways, the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act should come as no surprise. President Bush has hardly been one of its fans. Under his reign, the administration has granted 57 species endangered status, the action in each case being prompted by a lawsuit. That's fewer than in any other administration in history -- and far fewer than were listed during the administrations of Reagan (253), Clinton (521) or Bush I (234). Furthermore, during this administration, nearly half of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees who work with endangered species reported that they had been directed by their superiors to ignore scientific evidence that would result in recommendations for the protection of species, according to a 2005 survey of more than 1,400 service biologists, ecologists and botanists conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit organization.

"We are not allowed to be honest and forthright, we are expected to rubber stamp
everything," wrote a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist as part of the survey. "I have 20 years of federal service in this and this is the worst it has ever been."

The agency has long seen a need to improve the act, says Tollefson. "This is a look at what's possible," he says. "Too much of our time as an agency is spent responding to litigation rather than working on recovering the species that are most in need. The current way the act is run creates disincentives for people to get involved with recovering species."

Kempthorne, boss of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been an outspoken critic of the act. When he was a U.S. senator from Idaho in the late 1990s, he championed legislation that would have allowed government agencies to exempt their actions from Endangered Species Act regulations, and would have required federal agents to conduct cost-benefit analyses when considering whether to list a species as endangered. (The legislation failed.) Last June, in his early days as interior secretary, Kempthorne told reporters, "I really believe that we can make improvements to the act itself."

Kempthorne is keeping good on his promise. The proposed draft is littered with language lifted directly from both Kempthorne's 1998 legislation as well as from a contentious bill by former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. (which was also shot down by Congress). It's "a wish list of regulations that the administration and its industry allies have been talking about for years," says Suckling.

Written in terse, dry legal language, the proposed draft doesn't make for easy reading.

However, the changes, often seemingly subtle, generally serve to strip the Fish and Wildlife Service of the power to do its stated job: to protect wildlife. Some verge on the biologically ridiculous, say critics, while others are a clear concession to industry and conservative Western governors who have long complained that the act degrades the economies of their states by preventing natural-resource extraction.

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in "the foreseeable future" -- a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years -- it's a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn't even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they'd be unlikely to die out in two decades.

"It makes absolutely no sense biologically," wrote Hasselman in an e-mail. "One of the Act's weaknesses is that species aren't protected until they're already in trouble and this proposal puts that flaw on steroids."

Perhaps the most significant proposed change gives state governors the opportunity and funding to take over virtually every aspect of the act from the federal government. This includes not only the right to create species-recovery plans and the power to veto the reintroduction of endangered species within state boundaries, but even the authority to determine what plants and animals get protection. For plants and animals in Western states, that's bad news: State politicians throughout the region howled in opposition to the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into Arizona and the Northern Rockies wolf into Yellowstone National Park.

"If states are involved, the act would only get minimally enforced," says Bob Hallock, a recently retired 34-year veteran of the Fish and Wildlife Service who, as an endangered species specialist, worked with state agencies in Idaho, Washington and Montana. "States are, if anything, closer to special economic interests. They're more manipulated. The states have not demonstrated the will or interest in upholding the act. It's why we created a federal law in the first place."

Additional tweaks in the law would have a major impact. For instance, the proposal would narrow the definition of a species' geographic range from the landscape it inhabited historically to the land it currently occupies. Since the main reason most plants and animals head toward extinction is due to limited habitat, the change would strongly hamper the government's ability to protect chunks of land and allow for a healthy recovery in the wild.

The proposal would also allow both ongoing and planned projects by such federal agencies as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service to go forward, even when scientific evidence indicates that the projects may drive a species to extinction. Under the new regulations, as long as the dam or logging isn't hastening the previous rate of extinction, it's approved. "This makes recovery of species impossible," says Suckling.

Gutting the Endangered Species Act will only thicken the pall that has hung over the Fish and Wildlife Service for the past six years, Hallock says. "They [the Bush
administration] don't want the regulations to be effective. People in the agency are like a bunch of whipped dogs," he says. "I think it's just unacceptable to go around squashing other species; they're of incalculable benefit to us. The optimism we had when this agency started has absolutely been dashed."

3-27-07
Endangered Species Act changes in the works...Janet Wilson and Julie Cart
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-na-endangered28mar28,1,7044899.story

Bush administration officials said Tuesday that they were reviewing proposed changes to the way the 34-year-old Endangered Species Act is enforced, a move that critics say would weaken the law in ways that a Republican majority in Congress was unable to do...draft of suggested changes, which was leaked Tuesday, would reduce protection for wildlife habitat and transfer some authority over vulnerable species to states. Acting under orders from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who has long fought for changes in the law, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall said he had asked his senior field staff to evaluate proposals in the draft by policy advisors in the Departments of Interior and Commerce, which oversee almost 1,300 imperiled species. Hall made his comments after environmental groups and the online journal Salon.com published a draft version of the proposals Tuesday. The draft contains language from Kempthorne's proposed 1998 legislation and from a controversial bill by former Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), both of which died in Congress.

3-27-07
Washington Post
Govt. eyes changes in Species Protection...H. Josef Hebert, AP
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/27/AR2007032701623_pf.html

Details of some of the proposed changes surfaced Tuesday in a number of draft department documents released by environmentalists, who said the changes would amount to a gutting of the federal Endangered Species Act. Department spokesmen said the drafts were still under review and that no decision had been made by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on whether to proceed. "The focus is how we can do a better job of recovering more species," department spokesman Hugh Vickery said in an interview. He called the documents that have surfaced preliminary and in some cases out of date. Some of the proposed changes are outlined in a 117-page draft regulation and in a half-dozen separate memorandums, some dating back to last summer and others as recent as mid-February. The proposed changes "touch on every key program under the Endangered Species Act. It is a rewrite from top to bottom," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group based in Tucson, Ariz. The draft was the subject of a story Tuesday on Salon.com. Vickery said the 117-page document, which includes many of the proposed changes, is old. "It does not represent the latest thinking by the Fish and Wildlife Service," he said. "Recommendations are still being floated." But Daniel Patterson of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which put the documents on its Web site Tuesday, said the memos have been circulated among agencies outside the Interior Department, suggesting that the proposals are in the late stage of consideration.

3-30-07
Stockton Record
GOP launches early attack on McNerney...Hank Shaw
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070329/A_NEWS/703290337

National Republicans have begun their attempt to unseat Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, a full 20 months before Election Day 2008. The Republican National Campaign Committee, which spent tens of thousands of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to save former Tracy Rep. Richard Pombo last fall, has included McNerney in its first round of targets posted on www.therealdemocratstory.com. NRCC will also send about 100,000 e-mails into McNerney's 11th District highlighting their criticism of the freshman Democrat's voting record. McNerney has voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time so far this year.

3-31-07
Center for Biological Diversity
Interior Department Official Distorted Agency's Own Science to Avoid Protecting Endangered Species...Press Release...3-29-07

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/press/macdonald-03-29-2007.html
Report from Inspector General Department of Interior Blasts Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald
3-23-07...A copy of the Inspector General’s report is available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/esa/pdfs/DOI-IG-Report_JM.pdf.

3-31--07
San Francisco Chronicle
Judge tosses new forest rules...Henry K. Lee
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/31/BAGE5OVFUT1.DTL&hw=endangered+species&sn=003&sc=374

A federal judge in San Francisco threw out the Bush administration's new rules Friday for managing the country's 155 national forests, saying the government had failed to consider the environmental effects that could result from the changes...administration also failed to give the public a chance to review the new regulations before they went into effect in 2005, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said in a ruling on two consolidated lawsuits filed by environmental groups and the state of California. Hamilton said the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act and couldn't institute the new rules until environmental reviews are conducted. More than a dozen environmental groups had filed suit, including Citizens for Better Forestry, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.

3-32-07
San Francisco Chronicle
UC faculty to join talks on big BP biofuels deal...Rick DelVecchio
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/31/BAGE5OV6G61.DTL&hw=uc&sn=001&sc=921

UC Berkeley's administration has invited faculty members to join the contract talks on the $500 million BP biofuels deal amid pressure to ensure that campus traditions and values are safeguarded in the partnership. Journalism Professor Bill Drummond, chairman of the campus Academic Senate, said the administration will allow four professors who chair Senate committees -- Calvin Moore, Patrick Kirch, Christopher Kutz and J. Miguel Villas-Boas -- to participate in the negotiations... The university's administration is being sharply challenged by faculty members who fear the BP deal is so big that it threatens to upset the tradition of shared governance on campus between the Academic Senate and the administration. A petition signed by 130 faculty members, including some of the campus' most widely respected academics, calls for the immediate convening of a blue-ribbon committee to look into aspects of the BP deal that impinge on the Academic Senate's mandate. The petitioners argue that decisions on hiring faculty and allocating resources to the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute, to be staffed by 50 BP-appointed researchers and 100 from academia, are going forward without proper campus review. A second petition by a different group of faculty members seeks to cancel the BP deal on the grounds that it constitutes the "greenwashing" of the oil company's environmental record through its association with the university. Robert Dudley, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and a member of the Academic Senate's academic freedom committee, said the lack of disclosure of the BP deal's details is "potentially suspicious."...cited a 1998-2003 research deal under which the Swiss biotech firm Novartis provided $25 million in funding to the university's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Faculty members were upset that a funding deal that large wasn't discussed universitywide before it was implemented. Ironically, the Novartis controversy prompted Cornell's faculty to develop standards that could be put into action in a similar partnership. Cornell faculty's 26-page document was finished in 2005 after two years of debate...document coined a new term for large-scale research sponsorships: "strategic corporate alliances."

3-30-07
San Francisco Chronicle
UC-Merced hopes to lure large-campus rejects...San Jose Mercury News
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/30/state/n125253D42.DTL&hw=uc&sn=009&sc=878

The University of California, Merced has a new strategy to attract students:...The "Shared Experience" program will allow about 1,000 students who narrowly miss admission to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine or UC San Diego to attend the Merced campus for two years, and then finish their studies at a more established school. Growth has been slower than expected at UC Merced, where freshman enrollment dropped 38 percent last fall in the school's second year. The Shared Experience program was also used to increase attendance at UC Santa Cruz in the 1980s, when some students were guaranteed subsequent entry to the Berkeley campus.

3-31-07
Los Angeles Times
Southland's dry spell could get worse...Betinna Boxall
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-dry31mar31,1,7683947

Nature is pulling a triple whammy on Southern California this year. Whether it's the Sierra, the Southland or the Colorado River Basin, every place that provides water to the region is dry. It's a rare and troubling pattern, and if it persists it could thrust the region into what researchers have dubbed the perfect Southern California drought: when nature shortchanges every major branch of the far-flung water network that sustains 18 million people. The mountain snowpack vital to water imports from Northern California is at the lowest level in nearly two decades. The Los Angeles area has received record low rainfall this winter... And the Colorado River system remains in the grip of one of the worst basin droughts in centuries. Thanks to a bountiful Sierra snowpack in the spring of 2006, the state's reservoirs are in good shape. Twice during the 20th century — in the late 1950s and the early 1980s — drought strained all three regions that supply Southern California, said Scripps Institution of Oceanography hydrologist Hugo Hidalgo. UCLA geography professor Glen MacDonald, warned, "if you went into a decade or longer of persistent drought that affected the Sacramento [River Basin], the Los Angeles area and the Colorado, you would end up basically taxing all of the those water storage facilities, from the dams on the Colorado to what we have here, to beyond the breaking point." As a result of this spring's skimpy Sierra snowpack — it's at 46% of the normal statewide average — the State Water Project will reduce deliveries of Northern California water to the central and southern parts of the state, but not dramatically.

Washington Post
Extinct sense...Editorial
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/30/AR2007033001998.html
IT LOOKS LIKE another story of endangered ethics on the Bush administration's environmental staff. Last week the Interior Department's inspector general submitted the results of an investigation of Julie A. MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, to congressional overseers. According to numerous accounts collected in the inquiry, Ms. MacDonald has terrorized low-level biologists and other employees for years, often yelling and even swearing at them. One official characterized her as an "attack dog." Much of this bullying, the report suggests, was aimed at diluting the scientific conclusions and recommendations of government biologists and at favoring industry and land interests. Ms. MacDonald's subordinates said she has trenchantly resisted both designating new species as endangered and protecting imperiled animals' habitats. She defended her interventions in an interview with the inspector general's staff, saying that she kept Interior's scientists accountable, according to the report. But the evidence available suggests she was at the least too aggressive. H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, recounted a battle he had with Ms. MacDonald over the Southwest willow flycatcher, an endangered bird. claims that Ms. MacDonald insisted on lowering that to 1.8 miles so that the nesting range would not extend into California, where her husband maintained a family ranch. The inspector general noted that she has no formal training in biology. The inspector general's review of Ms. MacDonald's e-mail account also showed that she had close ties to lobbying organizations that have challenged endangered-species listings and that she had "misused her position" to give them information not available to the public on Interior Department policy. Reports of Ms. MacDonald's alleged sins have emerged soon after revelations of other ethical lapses by Bush environmental appointees. J. Steven Griles, the former second in command at Interior, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff scandal. And Sue Ellen Wooldridge, formerly the government's top environmental lawyer, jointly purchased a vacation home with Mr. Griles and a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. These are troubling incidents. Ms. MacDonald works for an agency tasked with making determinations based on scientific fact, not on her, or her lobbyist friends', inclinations. She appears to have betrayed that vital principle. The inspector general has sent his report to top officials at the Interior Department. They should investigate for themselves the document's troubling descriptions and take action to ensure that Ms. MacDonald and other managers at Interior make policy fit the science, not the other way around.

4-1-07
Sacramento Bee
Canal still best Delta water fix...Dan Walters
http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/147490.html

One of Brown's better initiatives was closing a gap in the water system that had been started under his father, Pat Brown...the "Peripheral Canal" enjoyed support from both environmentalists and municipal and agricultural water agencies... After a highly misleading, farmer-financed campaign, voters rejected the Peripheral Canal in 1982. Had the Peripheral Canal been built as Jerry Brown urged, the fish being chewed up in the pumps would have been alive and more numerous. Had the Peripheral Canal been built, we wouldn't have to worry so much about Delta levees collapsing due to an earthquake or being breached by rising ocean levels from global warming, either of which would threaten water deliveries. But the canal wasn't built. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." Arnold Schwarzenegger is the first governor since Brown to truly confront the water policy gridlock. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." He's right.

| »

Hun to increase state water supply -- Read all about it!

Submitted: Mar 27, 2007

There is something about a governor that loves a dam. Maybe it's the ribbons. In any event, Our Hun is no different. But the justification for more off-stream storage of water in California is beginning to reach a stage we might call "officially sanctified lunacy." It based on the mathematical assumptions that benefit a very powerful handful of people: the Hun, parts of the Legislature and the editorial board of the McClatchy Chain. The numbers go like this: as long as the finance, insurance and real estate sector of the economy continues to lavish campaign contributions on politicians and buy enormous quantities of media advertising, the politicians and the Chain will continue to promote the voodoo math that because the population is growing, the quantity of water in California can be made, magically, to grow by building more dams.

Regarding this latest promotion of the Temperance Flats dam on the San Joaquin River above the Friant Dam on the same river, the McClatchy chain, after a few false starts quoting the fulminations of a Tulare County congressman of knuckleheaded rightwing sentiments rapidly going out of fashion, they have gotten their rhetoric down: WATER CRISIS for the growing population. This conveniently obscures the San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement that would -- by federal court ruling -- put enough water back in the San Joaquin River below the Friant Dam (and the Friant-Kern Canal that sucks out most of its water) so that the river actually flows on the surface of the earth across Fresno County and contains enough fresh water so that salmon could again inhabit it from the Delta to the Friant Dam.

The distraction of the Temperance Flat project -- CRISIS IN WATER SUPPLY! -- shows that the McClatchy Chain remains firmly on the side of unlimited population growth in California and the fewer and fewer people who truly benefit from it, come drought or high water.

It is bad enough that the public had to wait 18 years, arguing on behalf of fish, to get a federal court ruling that would mean, if it is ever implemented, that a river would not go underground for 50 miles and when it surfaces be filled with agricultural drainage for the remainder of its 100-mile journey to the Delta.

It is bad enough that the Delta smelt population had to crash so severely that an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled last week that the pumps to the California Aqueduct must stop in 60 days unless there is a solution to another wildlife crisis.

It is bad enough that Westlands Water District of Fresno is permitted to buy 3,000 acres of river frontage on a tributary feeding into the Shasta Dam, just in case it is decided to increase the size of the reservoir.

There can be no more naked display of the unmitigated greed of finance, insurance and real estate interests and the pusilanimity of politicians and the McClatchy Chain, and that's the main chance for the public. This is a cartoon written so large anybody can see it. A huge number of people, from all parts of California, can now see that its plumbing system is absurdly vulnerable -- a sizeable levee break in the Delta would cause a crisis in drinking water supplies for 24 million people and large floods besides -- and yet this narrow group of special interests keeps mindlessly promoting more water storage. There is no more water, and the system that delivers it now is waiting for an earthquake or floods to self-destruct, as the result of a 30-year run of corrupt policies promoting unlimited population growth at the expense of limited natural resources, a period marked by the arrival of laws that recognize resource limits.

The public wants the San Joaquin River back. A federal court ruling says it should get its river back. Therefore, every special interest in the land must gather together to promote yet another dam on that river to make absolutely certain the public does not get its river back. Fifth graders would reject the math behind the proposal and have a good class giggle at the absurdity of this particular "word problem."

If it isn't the ribbons, maybe it's the money. It sure isn't the math.

Badlands
--------------------

3-26-07
San Francisco Chronicle
Schwarzenegger promotes dams as way to boost water reserves
Associated Press
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/26/state/n162231D22.DTL&hw=water&sn=003&sc=593

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday promoted a $6 billion plan for increased water storage and protecting fresh water supplies, calling for two new dams and better management of the delta.

"Our state's population is increasing rapidly. We also have earthquakes and major storms that could really destroy our levee system," the governor said, speaking against the backdrop of Friant Dam at Millerton Lake, in the Sierra foothills east of Fresno.

Two-thirds of Californians depend on the Sierra Nevada snowmelt for drinking water while Central Valley growers use it to irrigate their fields. Schwarzenegger said the state's expected growth — to 55 million people by 2050 — requires it to create more water storage.

In addition, officials must plan for the effects of global warming, which is expected to reduce the Sierra snow pack and lead to earlier run off. Rising sea levels also could increase salinity in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, jeopardizing fresh water supplies.

Schwarzenegger introduced his water projects in January during his State of the State address, proposing $4.5 billion for reservoirs and groundwater storage, $1 billion to manage the delta, $250 million for restoration of several rivers and $200 million for water conservation.

The governor faces building two new dams, one above the existing Friant Dam and Millerton Lake and another in the northern Sacramento Valley.

Environmentalists have criticized Schwarzenegger's plans. They say California could find more cost-effective ways to meet its water needs, particularly through conservation.
--------

3/27/07
Fresno Bee –
Editorial: Addressing water needs; Governor presents his plan to increase water surface storage

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took up the cudgels in Fresno Monday for the controversial proposal to build new surface storage capacity for water supplies in California, including a dam above Millerton Lake in the Temperance Flat area. Unlike the story line of most of his action movies, it won't be a fight the governor can win alone.

The governor, backed by agricultural and business interests, originally included money for new dams in last year's package of infrastructure bonds. Such projects proved too much for Democrats in the Legislature to swallow, and the people never got a chance to vote on them.

Schwarzenegger said he would be back with a new water storage package, and Monday's media event at the base of Friant Dam marked the public kickoff of the new campaign. Schwarzenegger stood in front of an assemblage of local elected officials and asked for public support to lobby the state's legislators on the effort.

The Bee supports the idea of a new dam at Temperance Flat, assuming the engineering and environmental studies underway confirm its feasibility. Such additional surface storage is badly needed in California, and must be part of a three-part package that also includes underground storage and dramatically revved-up conservation efforts.

The vehicle for Schwarzenegger's water package would be a $5.95 billion bond measure. The vast majority of the funds -- $4.5 billion -- would be set aside for surface water storage projects. About $1 billion would be spent on efforts to keep the vital Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta healthy. Another $260 million would be spent on the state's rivers, including the San Joaquin, and some $200 million would be used to provide funding for local water conservation efforts.

State Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, is the principal sponsor of SB 59, which would place the measure on the ballot.

It won't be easy. Democrats flatly rejected the approach last year, and continue to argue that conservation and groundwater storage are the only viable solutions to California's looming water crisis.

And crisis it is: The state's population is expected to grow by 30% in the next 20 years, and if even the most conservative estimates of global climate change prove true, we could have serious shortages of water in the state by the next generation.

There are many details to be decided, and battles to be fought. But this is no routine political exercise. The future of California is on the line, and the governor is correct to push for more water storage capacity.

| »

A client for Cruz?

Submitted: Feb 07, 2007

Build the rooftops and the lobbyist may come.

Build a mile-long, illegal 42-inch pipeline to your sewer plant on County land without a County permit, maybe you need the former state Assembly Speaker and Lt. Governor as your lobbyist.

But can Livingston, not the wealthiest community in Merced County, afford Bustamante? It leads the public to consider whether it is the people behind the sewer line and the development it could induce who are paying for the long-time state elected official. If the Merced County fix is no longer as secure as it was when former Bill Lockyer was state Attorney General, who knows, people could be asking questions.

Another question is Livingston's alleged motive for hiring a lobbyist -- more better Highway 99 improvements around Livingston. Perhaps the one thing Livingston actually has is the best stretch of 99 in the county. So, the public can safely discount this as the reason for hiring a lobbyist and consider other regional transportation plans as the more likely target, like the Big Beltway that will exit Highway 99 between Livingston and Atwater, run through prime farmland to UC Merced, then down the Campus Parkway to the WalMart distribution center. Other plans for expanding roads from the Livingston area toward Stevinson, fitting in with development plans of the Kelley and Mike Gallo families are also likely topics of conversation between the former Lt. governor and the new generation of legislators.

Livingston may need Bustamante, not the worse politician from the Valley to have served in the state Legislature and Executive. But why would Bustamante want to launch his new lobbyist career representing Livingston?

To get closer to money, the mother's milk, Cheerios and New York steak of politics.

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

2-6-07
Merced Sun-Star
Livingston may hire lobbyist Bustamante...Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13267202p-13900255c.html
After more than 30 years in politics, former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante remained guarded last month about his career after leaving office. But the Sacramento insider is returning to the political arena, this time on the other side of the table. The Livingston City Council will consider hiring Bustamante, 54, tonight to lobby Sacramento leaders with hopes that their multimillion-dollar highway construction plans will be fast-tracked. Livingston could be the second Merced County city to hire a lobbyist this month to maintain a presence in Sacramento. Merced's City Council awarded a $65,000 one-year contract to Townsend Public Affairs, an Irvine-based lobbying firm, Monday night. Two contract options with Bustamante will come before the City Council. One is for six months at $10,000 a month. The second is a two-year contract with the first six months at $10,000 a month, which decreases to $7,500 for the remaining 18 months.

| »

A reliable man

Submitted: Dec 31, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How else is the public expected to understand this appointment?

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

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

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

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

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

| »


To manage site Login