State Government

Public minutes of the Merced River Stakeholders November meeting held at the Merced County Agricultural Extension conference roo

Submitted: Dec 07, 2007

At the meeting held on November 19 at the Agricultural Extension conference room, a quorum of East Merced Resource Conservation District board members was present: Glenn Anderson, Bernard Wade, Cathy Weber, Bob Bliss and county Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook and EMRCD staff, Karen Whipp…so this was also an EMRCD meeting, regardless of the view of some RCD directors that the RCD is a completely private institution not subject to such pesky laws. Last month, if readers recall, the Merced River Stakeholders held two meetings simultaneously. One meeting was hosted by river stakeholders and held at the Washington School (near the river). The other meeting was hosted by the EMRCD board of directors and was held at UC Merced.

At this meeting, in addition to the EMRCD board quorum, there was one representative of the river landowner group that hosted last month’s meeting at Washington School and several new people, two of whom heckled environmentalists at the table.

EMRCD brought in a new facilitator, Netty Drake, because Gwen Huff resigned. Drake announced she was working on a new grant and asked: Where is MRS going?

In the introductions, Whipp’s husband, Fred, introduced himself as “operating the computer tonight.” Fred attends all RCD board meetings.

Karen Whipp told the MRS it was her understanding that the MRS could not approve its own minutes. Whipp did the staff work in this part of the meeting.

It was announced the 3rd Annual Merced River Alliance dinner has been postponed from November to March 2008.

Stakeholder Lydia Miller commented that the packet at the MRS meeting held by the RCD board and staff at UC Merced wasn’t complete because it didn’t include the emails surrounding the grant proposal. Planning Commissioner Lashbrook (RCD board member, staffer and Merced River Alliance staffer) denied this. Miller replied that she had received the material from someone who attended the meeting and that the packet had only contained the first page of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center/Protect Our Water letter. There was no reply to this from any of the RCD board members who had run the UC/MRS October meeting.

The grant proposal was the main topic of the evening. To recapitulate, RCD staff applied for a grant for studies of the river that cut the MRS out of participation and oversight. MRS stakeholders weren’t even given a copy of the final draft of the grant until after it had been submitted. Two groups of stakeholders wrote letters to the state funding agency, Department of Water Resources, in opposition to the grant for reasons concerning both the content of the grant and significant conflicts-of-interest issues about grant writing, administration, staff salaries and oversight. Although DWR has not indicated to either the grant writers or to those who wrote in opposition to the grant the reason it rejected the grant, it is clear from comments and actions taken by the grant writers that they have no doubt the opposition letters killed it. This issue dominates the following meeting.

Bernie Wade announced a mining permit on the river. A scoping meeting will heard on Dec. 12. It is a 400-ac tailings project. The Initial Study will be out the last week in November. Also, the Schmidt Ranch mining project is before the county Planning Commission on Dec. 5 for a mitigated negative declaration and a conditional use permit. There is a small sand removal operation on El Capitan Road on a farm, also, Wade announced.

Miller asked when will the Jaxon Mine administrative DEIR be out? Completed by end of year? No one knew. Aggregate specialist for the county Planning Department, Jeff Wilson, said the Jaxon project wasn’t on the Merced River. Miller noted it is on a tributary, Mariposa Creek, which contains good riparian habitat. MRS does address problems of tributaries to the Merced River from time to time.

David Hu, from USFWS and a representative from Cramer Fish Science spoke on the record low numbers of salmon counted in the Merced River – 44 to date.
“Salmon aren’t doing well throughout these rivers,” Hu said. “On the Stanislaus, 200 where usually over a thousand. Merced the worst of the three (Stanislaus and Tuolumne are the other two).

We notice at this point no representatives are present from DWR, DFG, MID, county, Stillwater Sciences, aggregate mines, UC, state RCD, or the Farm Bureau, any other RCD staffers involved in the grant or any of the new group of “stakeholders” that had replaced the MRS on the grant proposal.

Natural gravel cools water. Salmon can’t pass Crocker Huffman dam, siltation kills eggs.

Pat Ferrigno said farmers wanted to put gravel in the river but it costs $14,000 for a permit for what we can do in half and hour. DFG is the culprit. But many agencies are involved, FWS, ACE, DWR, RWCB.

Jill Ratzlaff: DFG put the wrong size gravel in our restoration project. Too big. Spent $6-7 million.

Hu commented, “corrupt system.”

Drake: They change people and projects are left unfinished.

Ratzlaff: “I don’t trust government restoration anymore.

Wade: We should have asked Rhonda Reed.

Ferrigno: Farmers will add gravel to river without a permit but not if we get fined for it.

Weber: Adaptive management is the key.

Ratzlaff: our suggestions weren’t followed.

Hu: “Lessons were learned.” The fall pulse cleans out debris, cleans gravel and the flow attracts fish.

Ezio Sansone: The pulse is for temperature?

Cramer consultant: “Haven’t heard that river temperature is controlled by air temperature.”

Sansone: is the pulse working? MID sends down 30,000 acre-feet in the fall. If it’s not working farmers need to know about it.

Cramer consultant: Merced River needs a counting fish weir and to photograph the fish.

There is bass predation from the old gravel pits. The pike are native. About 20 percent of the fish released from the hatchery make it to the downstream traps, two miles from the hatchery.

McClure Reservoir is at 28 percent capacity. Actually the total pulse was 37,500 AF.

DFG has announced a “California Landowner Initiative. DFG will design the restoration of riparian habitat and lease the land for up to 10 years at various prices depending on use. Lashbrook announced that the news came from the state RCD that day. Cramer can help with the permits (probably not for free).

Lashbrook said this is the last MRS meeting funded by the RCD.

Drake described herself: managed a 2-million AC watershed in Fresno Co. Tried to help interested non-govt. groups find a vision!! She proclaimed to the MRS stakeholders that she “hadn’t read anything” about its issues. Presumably, in the world of professional value-free facilitators, ignorance of documents and issues is a virtue. On the other hand, such facilitators do not probably read for free. And it fails the “reasonable person” test now widely propounded by county counsels that Drake would have been hired by the RCD staffer proponents of the failed grant without having heard an earful about opponents.

One small example among others of Drake’s failure of “value-free facilitation” occurred when this reporter responded verbally to one of several direct lies told about his group by Commissioner/RCD board member/RCD staffer/MRA staffer Lashbrook and her husband, Bill Thomson, sitting outside the circle of tables, quite audibly ordered the reporter, “Outside!” then began circling behind the reporter’s back. The reporter, believing physical attack was a possibility from a man defending his wife, began to get up from his chair and was restrained by the hand of Drake on his hand. Presumably, in the world of “value-free facilitation,” some people cannot respond to threats by other people. Thompson, to his credit, calmed down and returned to his seat.

“I understand,” she said. “The goal tonight is to help you find your goal and ‘navigate’ to it. What do you expect from this program – immediate, intermediate, and long-range?

Anderson said he wanted to continue the broad based collaborations for the entire watershed.

Wade said he wanted to environmentally preserve the Merced River watershed. Show respect for property owners, agriculture and recreation.

Ferrigno: 85 percent of the farmers along the river (she represents). We come to protect ourselves. We want equal representation in grant formulation. We’ll live with the consequences. Take the grant money, but leave us alone re. projects on site that we don’t initiate or have equal part in. Stillwater wasting funds and not listening to local knowledge. Funds better spent on a weir than on snorkeling to count fish – its’ ridiculous.
Somehow MRS became subservient to EMRCD. Who put our website up for sale? We were moved into a different category

Ratzlaff: funds are wasted by the govt. on bad restoration projects. People don’t know how much money has been wasted. On her land, agencies killed acres of old growth oak trees.

Wade: RCD didn’t write the checks. Grants were written to DWR’s RFP.

Ferrigno: If the RFP doesn’t fit, don’t write a grant to it.

Sansone is interested in property issues on Black Rascal and Bear creeks.

Lynn Sullivan: said she wanted action and projects done. Don’t study it to death.

Weber: the studies (in the failed grant) were to establish baselines to be able to act.

Sullivan: Let’s plant trees.

Miller: Like Chris Robinson did?

Fisherman wants a healthy anadromous fishery.

Lashbrook: There is tension between private property owners and the good of the environment. We need more carrots for the landowners. We have to pretend, make up those processes. We have to have the agencies listen, have the dialogue stronger. But I also know that Stillwater had to do those studies – you can’t do it from hearsay.

Miller wanted quality and quantity of habitat, density of species and protection and improvement of the natural resources. Having been involved in the stakeholder process since 1998, she knows the process works: there is tension, critical voices and supportive commentary. It is frustrating to have to go back to the mission statement. A technical advisory committee is being brought back, excluding the MRS. We should not be cut out of certain organizations.

Bill Thompson (couldn’t understand his comment)

Joe Mitchell: river is degraded by agriculture, mining, etc. for economic reasons. We have a canal now. He would like to see farmers farm subsidized riparian corridors, movement corridors. We take road rights of ways by eminent domain, why not riparian corridors.

Biologist from McConnell/Hatfield parks introduces herself.

Lashbrook says she and her husband bought their place by the river in 1996. They wanted info on the river about permits, projects, grants, wanted a watershed booklet to show how dumping oil down a sewer impacted the river, etc.

Thompson (Lashbrook’s husband) said his goal was to make this place (their farm) good for seven generations, learning to protect the land, not letting people drill gas wells. Some stakeholders wondered why, if this statement was true, neither Thompson nor Planning Commissioner Lashbrook had opposed the recent approval of a gas-well project directly across the river from their ranch. Where were they when support was needed at the Hearing Officer hearings on the well?

Cramer guy gave another advertisement for his consulting firm’s services.

Mitchell: a dense riparian corridor will increase total food supply for all fish, including predators.

Lashbrook: get DFG to lift limit on bass when smolts are being released. Again, this left some stakeholders wondering if Lashbrook would propose a Riverdance Farm Bass Derby on their ranch during this time. Perhaps they could get a grant?

Also Lashbrook: There are reports that agencies are tired of the negativity and inertia (of MRS). “This is a dying thing as far as I’m concerned.” Some stakeholders wondered that if Lashbrook really believed this, why would she apply for grants on behalf of the lower river, represented by the MRS?

Ferrigno: MRS is the only forum that lets all the stakeholders sit down together. We want it to go on in an enhanced way.

Miller added that opponents of the grant were not trying to hinder the MRS process, in which quite divergent interests sit down every other month or so and thrash out their differences. Lashbrook and other RCD board members do not want MRS participation in grants – and have proved it by deeds – because MRS participation would require accountability for distribution of grant funds, which RCD board members, staffers and MRA staffers do not want. There is too much evidence of failure to report spending of these public funds on RCD/MRA river projects.

Drake: Communication needs to be clearer. (MRS) accomplishes what?

Some stakeholders wondered how the professionally ignorant value-free facilitator would know what was clear and what wasn’t, not having read anything about the issues and only having heard one side of the story hissed in her ear.

Miller said dialogue could not have been clearer and pages of concerns were submitted to the MRS, the RCD and ultimately to the DWR in Sacramento. It did achieve our goal. We followed MRS process. We were clear about our participation. We were up front. We said what was going to happen on the grant. And the next grant will also be killed, she said, after what she and other opponents of the grant have been through making a state Public Records Act request of the RCD.

Lashbrook: “Pre-innoculated.” Not sure what that meant. Undigested jargon like that is exactly the problem of communication between MRS and RCD. A great deal of what comes out of county Planning Commissioner Lashbrook’s mouth is pure gibberish, in the view of some Merced River stakeholders. And this impedes vital communication.

Lashbrook then went back to the MRS governance committee, again accusing Miller and Ferrigno of wanting no governance, no way to “yea or nay” a grand. “You didn’t want MRS to take a position. Then she went through the famous letter of opposition to the grant, written by some stakeholders, accusing them of speaking for all stakeholders.

Miller said the RCD didn’t make the grant information available to the MRS.

Lashbrook replied that there was nothing in either the RCD or MRS charters telling us that you have to be in the first “dreams and nightmares” of a grant.

Again, asked some MRS members, what does she mean, exactly or even approximately?

“Lydia!” Sansoni shouted. He said one of the last reports to the governance committee of the MRS said that we weren’t mandated by any agency. MRS is a venue for all agencies and participants to exchange information and views. Miller had no right to write a letter signing for all the MRS.

Weber called it “dishonorable.”

Lashbrook called it “heinous.”

Ferrigno said that the people who wrote the grant were on the RCD and were receiving salaries from grants. It was a question of oversight versus recipients. Direct beneficiaries wrote grants and were to oversee them. This is an incestuous process. Cindy had no mandate. I am a taxpayer. That’s my mandate. How is this to go on with EMRCD negativity and antagonism toward Pat and Lydia?

Lashbrook interrupts. Her comment was unclear.

Ferrigno. WE will form our own group; get a lawyer and a lobbyist.

Drake: If you want money to do something, find another pass-through (other than RCD). As a grant writer herself, she said sometimes there is very little time to write a grant. You have to come up with a decision-making structure for those quick situations, some process, someone in authority. Someone who knows what our priorities are.
Action needs money.

Mitchell said most of the action was done through DFG and the landowners.

Lashbrook said when the DWR grant came up we were told to do another planning process.”Gwen asked you a zillion times for input. We couldn’t do enough. We don’t want that? Rather than alternatives, you gave us roadblocks.
This has probably killed millions of dollars in restoration implementation.
That’s my river! You just put a big roadblock on it,” said Commissioner Lashbrook, who bought her farm on the river in 1996.

Some MRS stakeholders know that there were people in the room whose ancestral relationships to the Merced River goes back to the 18th and 19th centuries and the Merced River is a Public Trust, not a RCD/MRA staffer private piggybank full of public funds.

Sullivan exclaimed in Miller’s direction: “You killed money for the river?!” (and left shortly thereafter).

Miller: “First of all, I am tired of people criticizing that have not read the material. The RCD has refused to distribute it. Why am I having this dialogue with you when you have not read the grant proposal? We read the grant and had outside counsel read it and make comments. We offered to meet with the RCD. The RCD refused. We told Gwen from March to June what our position was and our questions were blown off. We told you in March we would appeal it. We told you we wanted to meet. We made 41 points of objection at the May meeting” (boiled down to five by yet another interim value-free facilitator).

Drake: “You don’t have any money.
1. Put in a process for making decisions.
2. 2. Agencies won’t come if we don’t have a paid facilitator.”

Weber: “Maybe I want this process to dissolve. If there is always a group to oppose in MRS, RCD is the group” (to get the money).

Miller: “We don’t always oppose. Individually, we’ve sued the Bettencourts. How is it that from one isolated grant proposal now you’re killing the MRS? We’ve been treated badly by the RCD. Is the RCD a participant in the MRS or is MRS subservient to the RCD.”

Thompson: “In your MRS at the school, you said you could get your own grants.” (The implication Thompson made was that the non-RCD MRS stakeholders could then compete for administrative fees, salaries, and expenses with RCD staffers, including his wife Lashbrook).

Miller: “We can get grants. But, we’re here. We knew we’d be met with hostility. You still haven’t read the material.”

Ferrigno said that we have all written grants. It’s no big deal.

Drake: “Would you oppose a grant from MRS members?”

Miller: “It depends.”

Lashbrook: “MRS asked RCD for a facilitator. As far as RCD is concerned, it doesn’t matter. The agencies have no reason to be here now.”

An exchange took place between Lashbrook and Ferrigno about landowners and victims. Ferrigno said that the landowners object to the paternalism of RCD and to some mission Lashbrook is talking about “protecting landowners.” Lashbrook asked: When does any agency come to you on everything? Ferrigno: “Often.”

Miller: “It’s called environmental review.”

Sansoni and another gentleman announced that in a nutshell you folks effectively killed the grant. So, what’s your perception? Basically dead without the grant.

Miller:” The RCD allotted more for facilitation.”

Lashbrook: “The project manager wanted it to go to something positive.”
(The manager is Nancy McConnell, who lost a salary due to the loss of the grant)

Whipp chimed in with the “fact” that the state doesn’t or won’t allow it. (It allowed it two months ago but now doesn’t?)

Sansoni: “Where do you want to go?”

Ferrigno: “We need to study what’s appropriate to the MRS. We can oppose anything from the MRS.”

Sansoni brought up the letterhead issue again.

Ferrigno said he should read her letter signed by numerous river landowners (separate from Millers on behalf of San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center).

Miller: ”…and you should read the opening paragraph in our letter.”

Sansoni: “You cannot speak for the MRS.”

Miller said she had spoken as a member of MRS, and she said she would do it again. The groups she represents – at this point Lashbrook snared, “Groups! Ho, ho ho!” – have standing in the MRS since the beginning of MRS, she said. Miller added that she resented it that Sansoni had not read the material.

Lashbrook (nearly sobbing with hysteria):”The RCD and MRA had a letter to answer Lydia and Bill’s letter but we didn’t submit it!” She also mentioned that she had consulted with several attorneys about remedies for the grievous injustice. This alleged “injustice,” for which she has not yet found a mouthpiece, is evidently what the commissioner imagines is being done to her. Forget the river.

Miller replied that she ought to have submitted that letter. “It’s an open process,” she said.

After the grant was rejected, Commissioner Lashbrook abused her public office with numerous phone calls to members of the public, frightening one group to the point they do not admit signing onto the opposition letter. This harassment by a public official has become Lashbrook’s vendetta against Miller and groups associated with her.

Wade (RCD president at the time) said the next MRS meeting would be on Jan. 21, 2008.

A heckler from the crowd who had without doubt read less of the pertinent documents than the facilitator said you can’t do anything in this world without money.

Lashbrook urged the group to bring in ideas for raising money.

Money for whom, some stakeholders wondered.

Ferrigno said the meeting should be held at the Washington School and asked why the venue is always an issue.

Ratzlaff said Washington School is easier for the landowners to get to.

In one of her patented loud mumbles, Lashbrook commented, “Rubbish!” Due to lack of bridges, her ranch, on the other side of the river from the school, is closer to some other venues. The landowners on the river can get 40 other landowners to a meeting at Washington School. Lashbrook can only muster shrinking groups of associates, including a quorum of a shrinking number of RCD board members, at other venues.

Drake urged the group to be realistic on effectiveness. Can you effect change? Don’t think about what happened, but what will happen. You have to be really honest.

Meeting adjourned.

After the meeting Wade approached Miller and Ferrigno and the reporter with pictures of strange fill that had appeared on his river bank, wondering if any of us knew how this dirt would have gotten there to join a small island with his bank. This encounter turned out to have serious consequences for the RCD. RCD board members and staff told him after the meeting that he would not be permitted to talk with Miller, the reporter or Ferrigno. It was the last straw for Wade. At the regular RCD board meeting two days later, he resigned his presidency and membership on the RCD board effective immediately.

Ferrigno and the reporter speculated on a possible psychological diagnosis for one of the RCD board members.

Drake told them there were difficult personality problems in the group.

The article on this meeting that appeared in the Merced Sun-Star the following day, written by a Sun-Star reporter present at the meeting, plus an incoherent audio interview of that reporter on the subject of the meeting, confirmed the suspicions of some stakeholders that this Sun-Star reporter hadn’t read the grant or any of the other pertinent documents either. An earlier puff piece featuring a front-page picture of Lashbrook by the river in Snelling with a child and a dip net led some stakeholders to the opinion that this reporter is writing as if she has chosen sides in a conflict of which she is ignorant, perhaps because it is easier for her to listen to diatribes and play on riverbanks with school children than it is to read public documents. The same dismal aversion to the written page afflicts most of the MRS stakeholders as well. Don’t we already know where people with the most illiterate sound bites have led us?

Stakeholders who opposed the infamous grant proposal written by and for staff of the RCD and the Merced River Alliance were willing to try to reach a compromise before final submission of the proposal and clearly communicated that intent during MRS meetings in March and May. The staff, intent on subordinating the MRS stakeholders to the RCD and to itself, refused to meet. Now there are no possible compromises left and the RCD/MRA staff vendetta goes on, led by Planning Commissioner Lashbrook, who now behaves as if her public post is a license to bully and burble however she likes. When she was appointed to a seat on the planning commission, people who weren’t dogmatically pro-growth believed they had a seat at the county’s table. Unfortunately, it has turned out that the county gained a seat at the table of the numerous local non-governmental organizations to which Lashbrook belongs. On the commission, she is a compliant voice and vote who doesn’t challenge prevailing, environmentally destructive policy, choosing to nitpick around the edges of projects instead. In fact, Lashbrook is loudly establishing herself in Merced as an “environmentalist” in name only.

An air of remorseless stupidity clings to the rejected grant issue. This stupid wind, as they say, “is going around” in government circles at the moment. It is driven ultimately by the terrible failure Merced has experienced at the hands of its UC Merced-bedazzled land-use officials (“Nothing bad can happen because we got UC Merced!”). They approved real estate projects that produced a colossal rate of mortgage foreclosures that has made the name “Merced” a national poster child for irresponsible growth and financial, insurance and real estate fraud. In this rush to grow, local land-use officials also bet on the come on a sales tax increase to help fund the streets and roads necessary to serve the half-built subdivisions with empty houses that now ring cities, but lost that vote three times. Did Lashbrook and spouse bet their ranch on the money she would make from the infamous rejected grant? She is reliably reported to have said as much.

Neither Lashbrook nor her corrupt, witless cronies in local government. have anything to lose. Their reputations are shot. So why not declare a vendetta against MRS stakeholder groups that have consistently stood for fair and open public process, honest accounting for public funds, and environmental, social and economic justice for 30 years, taking those governments to court on behalf of the public whenever necessary?

But, who believes Planning Commissioner/UC-Great Valley Center IDEAL graduate/RCD-MRA staff/RCD associate board member/MRS member/Agricultural Futures Alliance participant/MARG member/CAFF board member/ESA anti-Pombo campaigner/CCOF trustee/owner of Riverdance Farms and host of the publicly funded Harvest/River Fair/ owner of Four Seasons ecological consultants Lashbrook anymore?

For some environmentalists, organizations are tools for achieving environmental goals. Lashbrook, on the other hand, seems to have amassed a large hat collection through which to babble and conduct a personal funding drive and a personal vendetta. Are state officials in charge of monitoring public grant funds aware of the extent to which they have subsidized Lashbrook's public/private win-win hat collection?

Badlands Journal editorial board

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For shame

Submitted: Oct 24, 2007

The Valley has always been a hard place, no doubt of that. Merced County probably hasn't been better than the fifth hungriest county in the state at the best of times in the last decade (given poverty statistics on California counties), but now, in the wake of the greatest building boom in its history, it ranks as the third hungriest county in the state and its foreclosure rate is tops in the nation. One in ten go to bed hungry and one in 68 are in some stage of home foreclosure.

For shame -- if only the decision makers in Merced County had any shame. But in the county, for a period of nearly 15 years, decision makers have paid no attention to anything but the arrival of UC Merced and the residential development it induced. The finance, insurance and real estate special interests behind local landowners, developers and the campus employed legions of propagandists to confuse the Merced public to the extent that today, it cannot connect three dots a millimeter apart: UC Merced=speculative housing boom=concealment of chronic poverty. Now,that UC development didn't pan out to universal rising of all ships, the news of chronic poverty is back along with the big hand out to the state and federal government. It's just the latest version of the Great Valley Whine. But it would have been better if all the prominent Valley plutocrats who donated to UC Merced for the magnificent Blue and Gold Future had instead devoted their excess wealth to alleviating the Present Poverty. This is particularly true in the case of some of our wealthiest citizens, who make so much of their money off government subsidies, like Gallo Farming Co., which hauled down $855,000 in federal subsidies between 2003-2005 with a reported annual income of around $50 million from the largest dairy operation in the US. How much of the $996,000 subsidy over those years to the Nickel Family LLC state Senate candidate Wiley Nickel use for that dismal excuse for a campaign against the incumbent in 2006? Whatever that ridiculous excuse for a political campaign cost, it would have been better spent on school lunch programs.

At the risk of stalling the flow of invective, the editorial board thought at this point it might be interesting to take a trip down UC Bobcatflak Memory Lane to get a better look at the real leaders who jerk the chains of elected officials in Merced and other counties in the San Joaquin Valley. Although UC Merced now chooses to keep the membership of its foundation board of trustees concealed from the public, they were appointed with great fanfare and pride. It is a rare gathering of the wise Valley leaders, many of whom personally profited from inside information on the UCM campus location in the speculative real estate boom centered in the north San Joaquin Valley. In fact, UC Merced could be described as long-term blarney and short-term land boondoggle. These wise leaders of finance, insurance and real estate are responsible for the foreclosure rate in Merced County of one in 68 households and for moving the county from fifth to third place in the poverty/hunger scale statewide. Although space does not permit discussion the ironies of any particular notable, Valley people will get some dark, retrospective chuckles out of the list. UC Merced should have adopted a Rattle Snake as its mascot. The time is Spring, 2000. Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the Cowgirl Chancellor, is in full cry:
(see Herself in full cowgirl regalia at

March 17, 2000

CONTACT: Ron Goble, Interim Communications Director, University of California, Merced, (209) 724-4400 or (559) 734-9046,

UC Merced introduces foundation board of trustees
MERCED -- University of California, Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey has unveiled the university's 82-member Foundation Board of Trustees composed of some of the most prominent individuals in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

The founding UCM Board of Trustees will meet in an advisory capacity and offer counsel and direction to Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey and her Vice Chancellors.

"Our Trustees are some of the most respected and highest profile corporate and professional leaders representing such vital valley interests as agriculture, oil, technology, medicine, law, education and science," said Tomlinson-Keasey. "We are overwhelmed that so many San Joaquin Valley and statewide leaders have chosen to join the UC Merced family. Their enlightened and insightful advice will be invaluable to me and help assure the success of the new campus."

Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey explained: "Initially, we were contemplating a much smaller board of trustees. However, when we realized the interest of Central Valley leaders and the needs of the new campus, we thought we should start with a full complement of trustees. Thus, the UC Merced founding board will be the size and status of other UC campus boards."

The blue-ribbon board consists of several Silicon Valley executives from such companies as Lucent Technologies and Sun Microsystems. Several current and former members of the UC Board of Regents included in the UC Merced Board of Trustees are current UC Regent chairman, John Davies, former chairs Leo Kolligian, Meredith Khachigian and Roy Brophy, current Regent Odessa Johnson, former Regents Carol Chandler and Ralph Ochoa. In addition, UC President Richard C. Atkinson, and Emeritus Presidents David Gardner and Jack Peltason are members of the new board.

Tomlinson-Keasey noted that several board members were valley natives, but now reside elsewhere in California, such as former Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, actor/producer Mike Connors and former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho.

The majority of the UCM Trustees, approximately 50, are CEOs of their corporations or organizations. All are prominent, but many have national and international prominence such as Robert Gallo of E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto, developer Fritz Grupe of Stockton, John Harris of Harris Ranch in Coalinga, President Eugene Voiland of Aera Energy in Bakersfield, and William Lyons Sr., agriculture leader from the Modesto area.

The first meeting of the new board will be held March 22 at the County Bank in Merced. The board is representative in size and structure to other UC campus boards which have traditionally taken years to put in place, said Tomlinson-Keasey.

The roster of all members of the board, their titles, affiliations and locations are:

Chuck Ahlem, Partner, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar;

Richard C. Atkinson, President, University of California, Oakland;

Joseph Barkett, MD, Chairman of the Board, Sunset Corp., Acampa;

Dr. Kelly F. Blanton, Founder and Chairman, Corp., San Francisco;

Robert Bliss, Senior Vice President; NEC/BCS (West), Inc., Van Nuys;

Calvin Bright, President and Chairman, Bright Development, Modesto;

Roy Brophy, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, Fair Oaks;

Jim Burke, chairman, Jim Burke Ford, Bakersfield;

Bob Carpenter, President, Leap, Carpenter, Kemps, Merced;

Carl Cavaiani, President, Santa Fe Nut Company, Ballico;

Carol Chandler, California Women for Agriculture, Chandler Farms, Selma

Tony Coelho, Chairman, C/O Gore 2000, Washington, D.C.;

H.A. "Gus" Collin, Chairman, Sunsweet Growers, Inc., Yuba City;

J.F. Collins, President, J.F. Collins Co., Inc., Merced;

Mike Connors, Actor/Producer, Encino;

Roger Coover, President and Publisher, The Stockton Record, Stockton;

Dean Cortopassi, President/CEO, Santomo, Inc., Stockton;

Bert Crane Sr., President, Bert Crane Ranches, Merced;

Jim Cunningham, owner, Cunningham Ranch, LeGrand;

Frank Damrell Jr., Judge, United States District Court, Sacramento;

John Davies, Attorney-at-Law, Allen Matkins, Leck, Gamble & Mallory, San Diego;

Rayburn Dezember, Bank Board of Chairman, Bakersfield;

Diana Dooley, Attorney at Law, Paden & Dooley, Visalia;

James Duarte, President, Duarte Nursery, Inc., Hughson

Ben Duran, President, Merced College, Merced;

John Evans, Chairman of the Board, Evans Communications, Turlock;

Ted Falasco, President, Central Valley Concrete, Los Banos;

Robert Foy, Chairman of the Board, California Water Service Company, Stockton;

Robert Gallo, President, E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto;

John Garamendi, Yucaipa Company, Washington, D.C.;

David Gardner, President Emeritus, University of California, San Mateo;

Lewis Geyser, President, Destination Villages, Santa Barbara;

Price Giffen, President, Giffen Company, Fresno;

Mark Grewal, Vice President and Director, Boswell Company, Corcoran;

Fritz Grupe, Chairman/CEO, Grupe Company, Stockton

Ann Gutcher, Retired 1/28/00, Kern County Board of Trade, Bakersfield;

John Harris, President, Harris Farms and Harris Inns, Coalinga;

Joe Hartley, Director, Global Technology, Sun Microsystems, Palo Alto;

Daryl Hatano, Vice President, Public Policy, Semiconductor Industry Association, San Jose;

Tom Hawker, President/CEO, County Bank, Merced;

Odessa Johnson, Modesto Junior College, Modesto;

Rafer Johnson, Chairman, Special Olympics, Culver City;

Art Kamangar, Kamangar Ranches, Merced;

Edward Kashian, Chairman, Lance Kashian & Company, Fresno;

George Kelley, founder, Stevinson Ranch, Stevinson;

Meredith Khachigian, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, San Clemente;

Dorothy Kolligian, Civic Leader, Fresno;

Leo Kolligian, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, Fresno;

Joe Levy, Chairman of the Board, Gottschalks, Inc., Fresno;

Paul Lo, Attorney at Law, Allen Polgar, Proietti & Fagalde, Merced

Robert Luster, President/CEO, Luster Group, Inc., San Francisco;

William Lyons, Sr., President, Lyons Investments and Mapes Ranch, Modesto;

George Martin, Attorney at Law and Civic Leader, Borton, Pettini & Conron, Bakersfield;

Harold Meek, President, Three Way Chevrolet, Bakersfield;

Ginger Moorhouse, Publisher and Chairman of the Board, The Bakersfield Californian, Bakersfield;

Tapan Munroe, President, Munroe Consulting, Inc., Moraga;

John Myers, Attorney at Law and Rancher, Beverly Hills;

Kate Nyegaard, Civic Leader, Board of Directors George Lucas Foundation, Modesto;

Marilyn Ohanian, Psychologist & Civic Leader, State of California, Fresno

Ralph Ochoa, President, Ochoa & Sillas, Sacramento;

Richard Otter, Senior Vice President, Salomon Smith Barney, San Francisco;

Ashit Padwal, Director, Global Public Affairs, Lucent Technologies, Fremont;

Jack Peltason, President Emeritus, University of California, The Donald L. Bren Foundation, Newport Beach;

Samuel T. Reeves, President, Pinnacle Trading Inc., Fresno;

Curtis A. Riggs, President, VIA Adventures, Merced;

Kenneth Robbins, Attorney at Law, Mason, Robbins, Gnass & Browning, Merced;

Guillermo Rodriguez Jr., Assistant to the President, PG&E, San Francisco;

Fred Ruiz, Chairman of the Board, Ruiz Foods, Dinuba

Thomas Smith, President, CALCOT, Bakersfield;

Edward Spaulding, Director of Government and Public Affairs, The Chevron Companies, Bakersfield;

Jerry Stanners, President, Stanners Consulting, Bakersfield;

Timothy Steele, Vice President, Siemens Information and Communications Networks, Inc., Santa Clara;

Cleveland Stockton, Attorney at Law, Stockton & Sadler, Modesto;

Gerald Tahajian, Attorney at Law, Gerald Lee Tahajian, Inc., Fresno;

Ann Veneman, Attorney at Law, Sacramento;

E.J. (Gene) Voiland, President/CEO, Aera Energy LLC, Bakersfield;

Daniel Whitehurst, President, Farewell, Inc. Fresno;

Carol Whiteside, President, Great Valley Center, Modesto;

Roger Wood, Vice President, J.R. Wood, Inc., Atwater;

O. James Woodward III, Attorney at Law and Civic Leader, Fresno;

Stewart Woolf, President, Los Gatos Tomato, Inc., Huron;

Michael Zagaris, President, Zagaris Companies, Modesto.

The Badlands Journal editorial board, focused on social, economic and environmental justice, is frequently challenged in sneering tones by elected officials and their staffs to provide positive solutions to the questions it raises. Numerous warnings have appeared through the years on this site. None were heeded by the decision makers and certainly none by the puppetmasters behind the elected officials. In fact, decision makers are more hostile than ever. Presumably, that is their method of sublimating shame. They are human, they must see what is happening, but shame is an inconvenient emotion in the heart of American leaders at any level of government.

The litany: five of the seven Merced City Council are realtors; three of the five county supervisors are large landowners (one representing some of the nation's top recipients of farm subsidies), a fourth (failed dairyman) represents farmer/landowners (brother-in-law of the county farm bureau executive director and future president of California Women for Agriculture), and the fifth represents Atwater realtors (whose greed belies their size). We don't have the data on the Atwater and Livingston councils. The state senator is from Salinas and the assemblywoman is from Stockton (both with Livingston addresses at the moment). On behalf of UC Merced, finance, insurance and real estate special interests, landowners and members of his family and friends, the congressman led three attacks on the federal Endangered Species Act in his short, disgraceful term of office, most of it spent in former Rep. RichPAC Pombo's back pocket. These days, he seems to be leading unsuccessful attempts to subsidize fruit and nut growers, no doubt attempting to forestall the consequences of massive overproduction of almonds and the little problem with the Honey Bee.

For shame. These leaders, backed by the culture of Fat City easy virtue provided by the UC/Great Valley Center, spent 15 years focused madly on future residents of Merced, ignoring those who lived here now. They conducted a massive propaganda campaign against the Present Tense, which fed effortlessly into a speculative housing bubble that, in its aftermath, has caused a global credit crisis. It is a record of so nearly perfect social, economic and environmental injustice that it recalls a comment:

How can one defend a system that creates wealth by making the majority poor?
– Henry C. K. Liu (quoted by Mike Whitney) in Market Oracle:

It has taken a world credit crisis to slow our leaders down. They aren't stupid. They are quite cunning, calculating and subtle in the pursuit of wealth -- so much so, so nakedly in accord with what our congressman calls in reverent tones,

"the Valley Way of Life."

In fact, local government in Merced County (as is it in most places in California) is totally controlled by wealthy special interests. It is the planet on which our leaders have chosen to live, as opposed to where we live. If it weren't for the consequences of their 15 years of purely speculative thought, we might call it pathetic because it is veering so far so fast from the Earth of pain, suffering and the real, so long ignored economy of this county, agriculture, in irreversible decline because farmers have become primarily landowners in their minds.

It's hard to measure all the government aid that comes into this county. Between 1995-2005, the Environmental Working Group estimates that $186 million came to Merced farmers in subsidies. EWG admits that its records so far are only partial, but it has made strides recently on pass-throughs to individuals from agribusiness corporations. Still, with all that federal aid (not including publicly subsidized irrigation and all the other little things government does for our "family farmers," they are selling their land for subdivisions and commercial sites. This is the growth that kills. If land stays in agricultural production, the society has an opportunity to improve the farming system. Residential and commercial real estate development kills the option, not to mention what it does to the environment.

As for the public funds flowing into UC Merced, who can tell? What is the price for a well pimped, witless virgin ? All her relatives from the village in Mindanao are surrounding her to support her career in Manila to get their handouts.

Pathetic. Cruel. But Very Pacific Rim.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Modesto Bee
Jobless numbers ratchet up for Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin
Housing crisis cited for construction work loss in three counties...Christina Salerno
Unemployment rates in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties swelled above last year's averages, the result of a shaky economy and deepening housing crisis. The three counties each gained at least a percentage point from the previous year, with Stanislaus County recording the biggest jump. The county went from an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in September 2006 to 8 percent last month, according to state Employment Development figures released Friday. The construction sector, reeling from the downturn in home sales, posted the steepest decline over 12 months, 28,600 jobs statewide.
Modesto Bee
Valley home prices continue to plummet
Merced takes turn at top for lost homes
1 in 68 houses in county got foreclosure notices; SJ, Stanislaus not far behind...J.N. SBRANTI
It's a title no one wants, but counties in the Northern San Joaquin Valley keep passing around the undesirable honor of having the nation's highest home foreclosure rate.Merced County is the latest to get that title, pushing Stanislaus County into the No. 2 spot and San Joaquin County into No. 3.September filings show Merced County had the nation's highest percentage of homes in the foreclosure process. An estimated 1 in 68 homes there received some type of foreclosure notice last month, according to RealtyTrac, which monitors such statistics. That's more than eight times the national rate of 1 in 557 homes...
Merced Sun-Star
County ranks third in country for hunger
Food summit brings together several groups to try to solve the nutritional problems facing Merced's poor residents...Scott Jason
Merced County may be a thick slice of the Central Valley breadbasket, but more than a third of its poor adults scramble to eat the crumbs.
Yet 25,000 low-income adults here face that problem regularly, and an estimated 38.2 million Americans have trouble putting food on the table.
Though the statistic may drop jaws, it's not filling stomachs. That challenge has been undertaken by the Merced County Hunger Task Force. With Merced County ranked as the third-highest population in the country that has trouble feeding itself, the group of community service agencies met Friday for its second annual all-day summit about the hunger crisis.
While the idea of chronic hunger may conjure images of homeless residents, the problem afflicts seniors, children, students and, most surprisinglyMerced's working class that struggles to survive. out of 10 Merced County adults faces the prospect of going to bed hungry.
$1.1 million grant awarded to UC Merced...Victor A. Patton
Called the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, the grant will allow eligible students to receive up to $2,800 in the summer to support research related expenses. The funds will also let the students attend national and international conferences with their professors.
The program will provide about $220,000 to UC Merced each year for the next five years and is expected to benefit at least 50 students during its funding cycle
Environmentally friendly house going up -- made of straw...Dhyana Levey
Hay is for horses, straw is for houses.
That's what Jean Okuye of Livingston says.
Okuye, 67, began looking about three years ago for a way to build an energy-efficient home with sustainable products. "I wanted to work with nature as much as possible," she said. "A house with materials more cradle-to-cradle than cradle-to-grave."
That means she'd rather see her home products recycled and reused than end up at the bottom of a landfill. She has the future in mind -- five generations of family members have lived on her 78 acres of land, which was just put in a conservation easement. After researching her options online she connected with the eco-friendly Bay Area design and construction firm Skillful Means and learned all about the uses of straw bales.
Part of her inspiration may have been genetic. In her ancestors' Japan, as well as today, at least one room in many homes is made of tatami, straw mats, for flexibility and comfort. About 160 bales of rice straw now make up the walls of her new dwelling, which will be 1,370 square feet when it's done...
The straw provides effective insulation, which was a selling point on this project, said Okuye, an almond farmer and president of the Valley Land Alliance, which seeks to protect local farmland. Her goal was to conserve energy by creating a house without air conditioning or central heating.

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Open Letter #2 to UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang

Submitted: Oct 22, 2007

Badlands Journal editorial board replies to Chancellor Kang's October 5 Message to Faculty and Staff

 Read More »
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Shameless demogoguery

Submitted: Oct 17, 2007

Fresno Bee
Ruling will damage region's water future...Mike Villines Rep. 29th Assembly District

A recent ruling handed down by a federal judge in Fresno places a significant portion of the water our region receives from the San Joaquin Delta in jeopardy, which could devastate our region's economy and public health.
U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger has entered a ruling that has been called the largest court-ordered water supply reduction in state history, all to protect the delta smelt, a tiny species of fish found in the Delta.
Thirty-five percent or more of the water pumped through the Delta each year --enough water to supply nearly 4 million homes -- could disappear overnight as a result of this ruling.
This irresponsible decision will have a very damaging impact on ouragriculture industry. Water from the Delta is a critical source of water forhundreds of local farms.

Losing this water will hurt production of the California-grown agriculture that feeds the world and employs thousands of workers. Without enough water fromthe Delta, farmers may be forced to take more farmland out of production or lower-quality groundwater that can cause lasting damage to their land.
The court's ruling will also threaten the public health of millions of people who live in the Central Valley, who rely upon water from the Delta as their primary source of clean drinking water.
Water officials will be forced to tap into limited reserves to make up for the lost water, and could lead to mandatory rationing in communities across the state. Even worse, the ability to transfer water from one part of the state to another will diminish with the pumps slowing down, making California more
vulnerable to future droughts.
It is very disappointing that state officials would be forced by extremeenvironmental groups to take such an outlandish step just to protect one species of fish. Protecting the health and well-being of human beings should be the first priority of policymakers and the courts when considering actions that will
affect the water supply of our region.
While we must take responsible steps to protect the environment and preven the extinction of endangered species, we must never take any action that could cause such a heavy toll on the health and safety of Californians or the economy, radical changes that will force people to change how they earn a living or live
their daily lives, but rather to take the responsible steps required to strengthen California's water future.
The responsible step is to build more water storage, because the state hasn't
built a dam in the past 40 years.
It's time to get serious about building more above-ground water storage capacity and water conveyance projects across our state. Lawmakers must prioritize the additional resources required to build increased water storage, so we can capture more rain each winter and more melting Sierra snow each spring
before it flows into the ocean.
More water storage capacity means more water available for drinking and agriculture, and more water collected in wet years to get us through the dry ones. It will allow us not only to meet human needs, but environmental needs as well.
While conservation is an important component of any comprehensive plan for our water future, it is only part of the solution. California cannot conserve itself out of this situation because we have 500,000 new residents moving to our state every year.
Building more water storage is a critical step that must be taken soon if we are to avoid having to resort to rationing or more Delta pump shutdowns.
Lawmakers had a golden opportunity earlier this year to dedicate the resources required to build more storage capacity by passing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed water storage bonds, but environmental politics and shortsighted thinking stood in the way. We cannot continue to ignore our lack of water storage much longer without consequences.
Going forward, we must not let concern for the delta smelt stand in the way of clean drinking water for millions of people and an important water source that fuels our local and statewide economy.
We must act to improve the flow of clean water across our state and build the additional water storage capacity required to meet our growing water needs.

Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis represents the 29th
Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes parts of Fresno
and Madera counties.
'Shameless demagoguery'

The Sept. 7 commentary by Assembly Member Mike Villines labels federal Judge Oliver Wanger "irresponsible" for ordering the federal government to take steps to protect the Bay-Delta fishery, including seasonal pumping reductions.
Two things are certain: Assembly Member Villines is little familiar, if at all, with the requirements of environmental law or the thousands of pages of scientific evidence in the case, and he is shamelessly pandering to narrow western San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests and cares little for Delta
farming or fishing interests.
Had Assembly Member Villines attended the hearing in which Judge Wanger announced his decision, he would have learned the judge was required to follow the law.
There is a disturbing propensity for any special-interest group nowadays to attack federal judges as "irresponsible" when the judges decide cases based on the rule of law, not on the desires of the losing party.
The irony is that Judge Wanger has ruled many times for agricultural interests. When the law required him to rule otherwise, attack dogs like Assembly Member Villines start the mud-slinging.
If Assembly Member Villines doesn't like the environmental laws, he should lobby Congress to change them. Ignorant attacks by know-nothings on judges areshameless demagoguery.

Lloyd Carter
California Save Our Streams Council

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Public comments on public minutes of EMRCD board meeting

Submitted: Oct 09, 2007

Below, find two comment letters on the public minutes of the last East Merced Resource Conservation District board of directors meeting. The Badlands editorial board has received several comments, actually, but declined comparison with 1950s French theater of the absurd. We wish to point out to the second correspondent that Lydia Miller has never conducted a "circus" at any Merced River Stakeholder meeting and one credible witness to that is Pat Ferrigno, representing the Bettencourt family ownerships on the river. Nor have river property owners created circuses at the MRS.

The EMRCD, which represents largely self-serving, grant-funded interests of its out-of-control staff, intends to destroy the collaborative, non-voting strength of the MRS. To that end, after stakeholders successfully killed an EMRCD grant on the basis that the studies were redundant, the staff salaries were models of conflict-of-interest and the EMRCD attempted to ram the grant down the MRS throat unread, the EMRCD summoned a bogus meeting of the MRS, presided over by an illegal quorum of its own board members, while the MRS held its legitimate meeting elsewhere.

The strength of the MRS lies in its non-voting governance, which has permitted -- uniquely for a decade -- widely divergent interests of farming, ranching, mining, environmentalist, resource agencies and others, to meet and continue to share vital information about our river. MRS has no intention of surrendering to some flak attack by the "one voice" crowd, fronting for finance, insurance and real estate special interests that aim to take away riparian water rights from property owners and destroy riparian habitat.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Bill: I read the lengthy email from the Badlands Journal about the EMRCD and the inside struggles for transparency. I am not a property owner there but do read. It is refreshing to know that transparency and openness of our local government will be fought for. Thank you. Charles Ulmschneider

Bill, I thank you for the recent e-mail sent regarding the meeting of MRS.
I do represent my own 200 acres in the Snelling area. I have several
partners in the property and I was asked to attend these efforts from the
start. Several years ago, I was informed that Lydia Miller was to attend
the next meeting and at that time my group decided that she would simply
create another circus costing Merced citizens too much bounty. I do try to
stay informed but refuse to entertain frivolous discussions by those who
simply want to stop all landowners from the enjoyment of their rights. I'm
still not sure where you stand on any matters but atleast you share
information well. Repectfully, Kevin Collins

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CESHA Comments on Proposed New UC Merced Footprint

Submitted: Oct 05, 2007

Press release: For Immediate Use !! ******* Press release: For Immediate Use !!

California Endangered Species and Habitat Alliance

Butte Environmental Council * California Native Plant Society * Defenders of Wildlife * Protect Our Water * San Joaquin Raptor and Wildlife Rescue Center * San Joaquin Valley Conservancy * VernalPools.Org

October 5, 2007 Contacts:

(916) 452-5440 Carol Witham, VernalPools.Org

(916) 201-8277 Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife

(530) 295-8210 Sue Britting, California Native Plant

(530) 891-6424 Barbara Vlamis, Butte Environmental Council

(209) 723-9283 Lydia Miller, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center


MERCED, CA (Oct. 5, 2007) –

The California Endangered Species and Habitat Alliance (CESHA) is a coalition of national, statewide, and local groups working to protect endangered species and habitat in California. We are committed to effectively and strategically advocating for and educating towards changes in California’s policy, politics, and public awareness that will enable protection of California’s endangered species and threatened habitats.

Members of CESHA, including Butte Environmental Council, Defenders of Wildlife, California Native Plant Society, Protect Our Water, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, and VernalPools.Org, have been meeting with UC Merced officials, plus federal and state resource agency officials for more than two years in a dialogue about the Merced campus impacts on the habitat for endangered species.

“ supports the UC’s announcement today regarding the reduced footprint” said Carol Witham of, “because it is environmentally more balanced than the original proposal and reduces impacts to vernal pools and endangered species.”

“We look forward to seeing new plans and participating in the public review process on the new campus,” said Lydia Miller, president of the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center.

“CESHA’s open discussions with UC may prove beneficial for the species, habitat, and the Merced campus, which has been a collaborative opportunity too good to miss,” stated Barbara Vlamis of Butte Environmental Council.

CESHA has been in continual dialogue with federal and state resource agencies concerning the impacts to and disappearance of endangered species habitat, most notably in the eastern Central Valley. Among CESHA achievements is the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, a group of environmental organizations and cattle-ranching groups that work together for the preservation of working cattle ranches and endangered species habitat in California.

UC Merced’s announcement may be found at

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Merced River property owner/stakeholder viewpoint on East Merced Resource Conservation District September board meeting

Submitted: Oct 03, 2007

This is a letter from a Merced River stakeholder/river landowner that provides another viewpoint on the recent East Merced Resource Conservation District board meeting. -- Badlands Journal editorial board

Subject: Post EMRCD Meeting
Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2007 18:28:15 -0700

Bernie: I am conflicted as to what to do next. I have never been subjected to such thinly-veiled hostility as was experienced at the EMRCD Board meeting.

I’m not a big fan of process, per se, and most of this public records stuff drives me crazy….but it is offensive to me that the Board spent so much time yesterday discussing ways in which to make access to public records difficult and expensive … specifically for the Raptor group. People like Lydia Miller keep us honest; we are all just a little bit more careful to cross our t’s and dot our i’s because of them. The entire matter would be a moot point if this stuff could be put on the web site where it belongs so anyone could look at it whenever they wanted.

As a citizen of Merced County attending a public meeting of a Merced County Board I am once again embarrassed by these proceedings. As a private citizen with a need for representation I am horribly frustrated to the point of not being able to function. If water were not so important to the farmers on the River, I would walk away from the whole thing and have a much better quality of life.

The snide remarks, innuendo, and blatant misstatements from Cindy Lashbrook are very troublesome: point in fact, my brother was never invited to sit on the EMRCD Board although Cindy announced to one and all that he had been invited and had refused; point in fact, I never “shouted down” anyone who wanted public access at any MRS meeting (Cindy said that someone present at the Board meeting yesterday had done that; as it wasn’t you and wasn’t Lydia I guess that leaves me)—Lydia is probably the only person I have raised my voice in anger to at a meeting and it was at the Board of Supervisors not MRS; point in fact, the previous water monitoring training program, organized by Teri Murrison, was a bust—Mike is the only person who walked out of that training program with a water monitoring kit and that was only because he knew the Fish and Game rep who was doing the training. The lies promulgated by Ms. Lashbrook become fact when they are not refuted.

Has the impropriety of the way in which the grants are administered not occurred to anyone on the Board? It is not appropriate for beneficiaries of grant funds to sit on the Board: it is a concept called “arms length “ objectivity; without it the EMRCD can be seen as being politicized, chasing the board members’/grant beneficiaries’ biases rather than the legitimate policy concerns of the citizens. Instead of attacking the messenger, it would be more prudent to examine the actions of your staff in this regard.

The stakeholders (no matter with what group—or no group—they are affiliated) are citizens. We, the Merced River Property Owners, had legitimate concerns about the grant. Whether it was submitted by the MRS, the EMRCD, or the Rand Corporation, we would have opposed the grant as it is adverse to the interests of the majority of the River farmers.

Cindy’s contention that the grant really wasn’t concerned with public access to private property; and, her further statement that the access issue and all of the other things in the grant which were the basis of our opposition were only included because they were a part of the RFP is ridiculous. It is also fraud. I was a grant administrator at UC-SF for several years; you cannot state you are going to do something in order to get a grant and then not do it. If Merced County has other grants which were obtained on this same basis… what were they thinking?

I don’t believe the EMRCD Board is guilty of malfeasance or misfeasance; I believe you are all doing the best you can do in the situation where you are running your businesses and volunteering your time for the EMRCD. I do object to the level of personal hostility which was in evidence. We (the Bettencourt family) tried to defuse this whole thing before we resorted to setting up another MRS meeting. We offered to meet anywhere, with anyone; we offered to host the meeting at one of our homes or at a restaurant. The offers were ignored.

You need to put aside your defensiveness and notice that there is a pattern here: your facilitators were too busy meeting the grant deadline to get the grant concept proposal out to MRS members (did you notice that the grant is dated February 1, 2007; which would have allowed more than adequate time for MRS review); your facilitators were too busy getting ready for the River Fair to get the grant out to Lydia and me on a timely basis; your facilitators were too busy going out of town for four days to reconsider the UC-M location even though our prediction of significant parking problems and lost attendees was right on.

It would be appropriate for us to try, once again, to defuse the issue but I really don’t have the energy and the Property Owners I represent would not ask me to be subject again to being scolded, like an errant schoolgirl, by the EMRCD Board. We will continue the MRS once your paid facilitators are gone. We don’t need to be paid to do the right thing for the River.

Pat Ferrigno

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Public minutes of the East Merced Resource Conservation Board of Directors meeting, September 26, 2007

Submitted: Oct 01, 2007


RCD=East Merced Resource Conservation District
MRS=Merced River Stakeholders
MRA=Merced River Alliance
NRCS=USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
DOC=state Department of Conservation
DWR=state Department of Water Resources

#1. Introductions

Gwen Huff, EMRCD/MRA staff/MRS facilitator
Cindy Lashbrook, Merced County Planning Commissioner/EMRCD/MRA staff
Susan Pettis, USDA Soil Conservation
Malia Hildebrandt, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
Bill Hatch, San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
Lydia Miller, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Pat Ferrigno, representing the Bettencourt Family, Lower Merced River property owners
Dyhanna Levy, Merced Sun-Star
Bernie Wade, president RCD
Glenn Anderson, RCD board member
Cathy Weber, RCD board member
Karen Barstow, RCD board member
Bob Bliss, RCD board member
Karen Whipp, RCD/MRA grant administrator (and her husband)

#2. Communications

Lydia Miller submitted a letter and the oral testimony of Bryant Owens and David Corser, presented at the RCD/MRS meeting held on Sept. 24 at UC Merced.

Anderson denied that meeting was an RCD meeting and asked how the board should receive Miller’s submissions. Bliss said, “We never had a board meeting,” adding that he only talked to two board members.

There were four identified RCD board members at the UC Merced RCD/MRS meeting, which made a quorum. The RCD board members present were advised by a state official that in fact this was an RCD meeting. No RCD board members attended the real MRS meeting, held at Washington School simultaneously.

Weber suggested that Miller’s submissions be accepted by the board plus board comments.

Miller said they were presented by Owens.

Lashbrook: “Read by him anyway …”

Anderson said that the MRS has no governance therefore the submissions were made by a person.

Miller said the submission weren’t written by Owens or Corser but were presented by and for several groups in MRS that signed the submitted letter.

Barstow said the proper name for the RCD/MRS meeting was “MRS at UC Merced.”

Miller requested the words “oral and written” be added.

The board found that acceptable.

Anderson asked, “But for which meeting?”

The board replied in unison, “The meeting at UC Merced.”

Whipp suggested that the submissions be labeled “by some stakeholders.”

In other words, the RCD board interjected itself into the time on its agenda reserved for oral communications from the public, interrupting the public repeatedly in the process.

Wade proceeded to Item #4, forgetting Item #3, Corrections and Additions to the Agenda.

Miller pointed out the mistake.

Busy at work trying to suppress public comments at a public meeting, Lashbrook and Bliss sneered at Miller’s suggestion, saying it wasn’t true.

Wade, recognizing his mistake, returned to Item #3, Corrections and/or Additions to the Agenda, and Miller submitted the “Public Minutes to the EMRCD Meeting, August 15.”

Whipp refused to accept them.

Miller requested that they be submitted under Item #2, Oral Communications.

Wade agreed.

Bliss: “Time’s up.”

In fact, “individual comments may be limited to 5 minutes each by the board president,” not Bliss, who isn’t the president. There was no one keeping time on whether Miller took five minutes to explain the board’s mistake, Whipp’s refusal and Miller’s subsequent request.

Weber noted that there is one error in the submitted public minutes and asked if the board could comment.

Weber’s problem was that the letter in opposition to the RCD grant was titled “Merced River Stakeholders,” a true title. Weber’s objections were well-covered in the public minutes just submitted. When she realized that a separate MRS meeting had been held at Washington School while the RCD was holding an official RCD meeting at UC Merced, erroneously called an MRS meeting, she dropped her opposition to the public minutes.

The MRS has never suppressed information or demanded that anyone support our position. At its meeting at Washington School, as usual, the MRS had an open agenda. This meeting was attended by Commissioner Lashbrook’s husband, Bill Thompson. MRS members have heard from several sources that Thompson, a Farm Bureau director, like his wife, has been bullying people into taking a position against the MRS. MRS would welcome his interpretation of its meeting. Meanwhile, the MRS wishes to make it clear that it is not out bullying anyone to support its position.

Miller said the proper place for board comment on the submitted public minutes would be at the next meeting.

It is fascinating that having first rejected minutes offered by the public for RCD meetings, now RCD board members wanted to correct them.

Whipp said the public minutes weren’t written by someone hired by the RCD to write them, therefore should be called “public comment.”

The RCD board then moved on to Item #4, the Consent Agenda, but Whipp wasn’t finished with the public minutes issue, submitted under Item #2 after the board refused to consider them under Item #3. Whipp said the official RCD minutes are written according to Robert’s Rules of Order and that p. 451 of Robert’s states that official minutes “should never reflect opinions or reasoning of the board…Minutes will show action, reports made, but no comments … that’s not what minutes are about…If more detail is required, you are asking for a transcription.”

Whipp’s interpretation would seem to founder on two questions: are RCD minutes public or private? and Are they published or not published? – at least according to Robert’s Rules of Order. In fact, the RCD is a public board, appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors, and its main business, well-known to Grant Administrator Whipp, is the administration of public grants from public agencies for public purposes and the minutes are published on the RCD website after they have been adopted.

The RCD treasurer, Barstow, referred the board to written reports on the RCD grants.

There was discussion of an additional $16,000 granted to the RCD or the MRA “until December 2007” and it was reported that 70 percent of the MRA personnel budget has already been spent. The work on that grant will be done by June 2008 and MRA staff Nancy McConnell and Whipp will continue working 2 months longer.

Item #6, Written and Oral Updates.

Hildebrandt of NRCS reported on the status of the General Order on Waste Discharge Requirements for Existing Milk Cow Dairies, issued in May by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. Workshops for dairymen have been scheduled for public dairy assessments on water quality due in December 2007. In October, visual and photographic assessments should be taken. Two hundred forty Merced County dairies are covered by this order. They include “those dairies in existence as of October 17, 2005, that have not expanded by more than 15 percent AND have submitted a complete Report of Waste Discharge to the Board.”

The deadline for application for EQIP grants is November 2, Hidlebrandt reported. So far, there are 80-85 applications. Per the new Farm Bill, funds not allocated will be returned to the federal government and subjected to the new regulations coming out of the new Farm Bill. At the moment, the new Farm Bill contains no provisions for orchard removal but it is “on the list” (for final Farm Bill negotiations).

There are new developments in pest management, she said.

Meanwhile, there will be high school speech contests for the RCD to consider. (Is this a cross-grant with existing FFA programs long in place?)

Hidlebrandt reported on the University of California Integrated Pest Management program, which elicited questions from the board.

Bliss and others groaned about the difficulty of this new program. Anderson wondered how difficult it would be to keep records for such a program. Hildebrandt said that most growers would let a PCA do the record keeping, noting that growers already in the program will not be eligible for this new program. Anderson asked if new adoptees were easier or harder to find, guessing they would be easier to find. Hidlebrandt said NRCS had not yet administered the new program. Yet, typically, the sort of guidance the program would offer would include: “Don’t just automatically spray after a rain; at least do the other things first.” Air quality and integrated pest management programs are funded by the states, she added.

Pat Ferrigno asked Hildebrandt if the air quality program was new. Hidlebrandt replied they have been going for seven years. Ferrigno remarked that it would have been appropriate for the RCD-funded facilitator of the MRS to have informed the MRS stakeholders of it.Hildebrandt said she had been to the MRS.Lashbrook said something about “advertising to the MRS.”Hildebrandt said that not everyone knows about the program. Ferrigno said that that was her point.

Hildebrandt explained that it was an offshoot of an older USDA program with a more environmental emphasis.

Next, under this Item came the Watershed Coordinator report.

Huff, the watershed coordinator, announced she was resigning on Friday, adding that Lashbrook and Whipp would make sure that her leftover responsibilities were taken care of. She said the Fall MRA newsletter was complete. Huff was enthusiastic about educational fliers announcing a water-quality monitoring program for junior high school students and the opportunities for outreach to junior high science teachers. Her parting theme was: “Do more outreach!” Weber raved about the extra credit junior high science instructors were offering for this program.

Huff announced that Sierra naturalist Jack Muir Laws would be offering a lecture and workshop on the Upper River soon. Lashbrook annotated that Laws was “a direct descendent” of John Muir. Weber said his book was “great.”

In other business under this Item, Huff reported that there had been no response from the state Department of Water Resources on why the RCD grant proposal had been rejected. But, she noted, the state Department of Conservation would be offering new watershed grants later this year. The RFPs were not out yet but stakeholders would be notified, she said. There will be six weeks to submittal and the stakeholders will have three weeks to respond. Lashbrook and Whipp will be working on it, Huff added.

A board member handed out regional water board non-point-source pollution RFPs for grants. This would involve landowner workshops, Huff said. Lashbrook and Whipp have time on the Department of Conservation grant to write some grants, she added. There will be a webcast from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sept. 27, Lashbrook said, at least it is “most likely.” An urban streams program will also be offering grants, Huff said. The RCD/MRS facilitator grant will end in November 2007, she said. The RCD still has money and Huff suggested two replacements for herself.

Huff said that MRS had elected to meet at the Merced County Agricultural Commissioner’s meeting hall because at UC Merced parking was hard to find (and might cost money). Or, alternatively, the MRS could continue to meet at UCM but at 6:30 p.m., when parking was easier to find.

Weber asked if the non-point-source grants apply to riparian vegetation, too, and if they could link with NRCS grants. Huff said, “It’s a perfect fit.”

Next, the board turned to the issue of how the MRS could possibly continue without RCD-paid facilitators. What would they do with the mailing list and the website? Where would it go? That subject dangled as Huff returned to the money: she said she would write the next draft report to the state Department of Conservation on the grant budget. Lashbrook and Whipp will continue her work on these reports after she leaves (on Friday, Sept. 28). Huff said the MRS facilitator is a half-time position and that Lashbrook and Whipp will pick up more hours after her resignation.

Will the DOC approve of this change or will it suck up those hours? Whipp asked. Lashbrook attempted to explain but the reporter was unable to make any sense of her comment. Huff said that the MRS account was billed for eight hours per month. Whenever the watershed coordinator worked for the MRA on the river, she was partnered over to the MRA newsletter but only billed eight hours to the MRA.

President Wade said that there would be a new facilitator for the MRS in November, but asked if Huff would write up the minutes for the RCD/MRS meeting at UC Merced.

Huff replied that she was using a $1,600 Toshiba laptop computer and offered to buy it from the RCD for $500. “If not,” she said, “you could sell it on eBay.” Lashbrook said that the new price for this model had dropped to $500-$600.Huff said it had had to be repaired four times. Anderson asked what records were in it.

Huff replied that Lashbrook and Whipp probably already have all the records or will have after the “turnover” on Sept. 27. Anderson suggested erasing the hard drive and starting all over. Huff said the laptop had crashed “a few times.”

This computer was purchased with state funds. It should stay with the entity for which purchased. But, was that entity the RCD, the MRA, MRS? It was not purchased by an individual, Huff or anyone else. Sounds like a subject for another state Public Records Act request.

Lashbrook presented her report. She said she’d spent “very few hours this summer” on water-quality monitoring, a long-term MRA goal. “The Upper Merced River has been doing it all along,” she said. Originally, the MRS wanted water monitoring. MRS facilitator Teri Murrison, waste water treatment plants and the Merced Irrigation District, along with other entities, wanted “learning centers” along the river, Lashbrook said, and there was agreement with the parks along the river for regular water-quality monitoring.

Huff said that there was no funding for citizen water-quality monitoring.

Lashbrook attempted to put the monitoring issue in perspective by saying something about how we pollute and how these people (perhaps she meant farmers) won’t be a problem anymore because of this monitoring.

Wade reported on a UC Merced freshman tour of Lake McClure, mentioning it was “painful” to ask how restoration would be done.

Ferrigno, representing the private ownerships along the lower Merced River, said that former MRS facilitator Teri Murrison discontinued a water-quality monitoring program half-way through due to farmers’ opposition to what amounted to a bounty program in which citizen monitors were promised half the fines levied against (farmer) polluters.

Lashbrook remarked that it sounded like Teri. Huff said she didn’t remember that program.

Ferrigno reiterated a point often made: the lower river is mostly privately owned and permission is not given to cross private property to do monitoring.

Lashbrook commented that part of the MRA program was to share the practices of the upper river group.

The Merced River Alliance is composed of staff for upper and lower river groups, from Yosemite on down to the San Joaquin River.

Ferrigno brought up an example of how even agency water-quality monitors get it wrong, saying that it took her family three years, including 15 hours in September to clarify for the monitoring agency that the water they were testing came from tail waste, not Jones Slough – in other words, the wrong source.

Hildebrandt and Lashbrook explained that records are kept of tests on the upper river and that if MRA found funds for a full program, it would send tests from all along the river to labs. Huff said the lower river is already monitored. Lashbrook said MID doesn’t monitor all the water, that a full monitoring program would or should include all irrigated lands and that MRA would make sure all the information would be correlated.

Whipp presented the report of MRA staff (from the upper river), Nancy McConnell, stressing that “deliverables” on grants included tours, watershed outreach and the annual MRA dinner. She also presented the report of Terry McLaughlin, MRA staff for Yosemite, announcing that McLaughlin had developed a new water-quality monitoring kit for middle school science curriculum (7th and 8th grades).

Barstow commented this was a “good thing for our children who are our future.” Anderson asked Barstow if she was present when the kits were used by the 7th and 8th graders. Barstow said no. Lashbrook commented that “Snelling students will be our mentors on water-quality monitoring protocols” at an upcoming event there.

Lydia Miller asked why the Monitoring Plan and Quality Assurance Program Plan received an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act. Barstow or Whipp (not sure) replied that it was because the plan was just a study. Lashbrook commented that McConnell had done all the work on that.

Item #7 Recording EMRCD Board Meetings

Weber said that the RCD needed to record its meetings so that “we can verify what we said other than what it is reported that we said.”

Barstow objected, saying she did not want the “give and take on opinions before making a decision” recorded, however “points of clarification and the Yea or Nay” were OK. The conclusion is the significant thing, she added. Anderson quizzed the group on what equipment and special technology would be necessary, agreeing with Barstow on recording deliberations, because he was “not always especially proud on the lack of information” on certain things. Barstow said that if the meetings were recorded board members would have to identify themselves.Whipp said the board would “have to do all of it.” Bliss said he liked to sit around, “freelance,” and talk to each other (freely, seemed to be his implication).

Wade mentioned that the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission record their meetings. Weber replied that those were “public hearings.”

Lashbrook said that the state association of RCDs told board members that recordings would have to be kept for five years and did not recommend the RCD record their meetings. However, Merced County Counsel said it wouldn’t hurt but that they would have to keep the tapes and that all meetings or no meetings would have to be taped.

The board voted unanimously to table the issue for this meeting and reconsider it later.

Item #8 Procedure for Requesting Public Information

Whipp requested adoption of standardized procedures for keeping and sharing RCD public information. She expressed irritation at members of the public who had received information from the RCD and then wrote to request the same information be sent again. State Department of Conservation and the state RCD association both recommended the RCD adopt a policy, she said.

Barstow: “What information?”

Whipp: “Minutes and reports sent out to those who request it. I need more structure … there is a policy under the Freedom of Information (Act) to charge for copies …”

Anderson asked if there was any guidance in the state RCD handbook.

Hildebrandt began to look through the handbook.

Lashbrook explained that the RCD state staff recommended a policy and pointed to the difficulties of finding “historical stuff,” rather than “current stuff.”

Whipp said her main interest in a policy was to be able to show that she’d already sent information if she had. Therefore, she was asking for a log of all requests and that the requests must specify documents.

Anderson asked that action be held off until the board sees if the state RCD handbook has specific guidance.

Lashbrook advised: “This is your time to set policy. This would be the day …It’s happening statewide but state RCD staff says not everywhere …You have pressure now. It wouldn’t hurt you to adopt (a policy).”

Barstow moved to develop a policy by the time of the board’s October meeting.

Bliss also wanted to make a motion.

Anderson objected.

Weber asked that if she were to second a motion, wouldn’t it open it to discussion?

Bliss offered to amend Barstow’s motion to charge $1/page for RCD documents “like other boards are doing …”

Hildebrandt read from the state RCD Guidebook that all records are open to public inspection during office hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Anderson expressed concern for additional overhead costs to the RCD.

Bliss urged the board to pass his $1/page motion immediately.

Weber and Wade brought up some qualifications.

Lashbrook commented that some of the qualifications were according to statutes.

Anderson asked what would happen if we took action now, based on what other RCDs are doing.

Bliss said that it had all been explained, it covered all kinds of information and that “there’s a leak in the dam.”

Lydia Miller raised a point of order.

Bliss refused to hear it.

Wade asked that it be heard later.

Weber asked if the board would start charging $1/page now.

Bliss: “Now.” He argued that the board has to pay Whipp for her time to fulfill these requests. “These people (meaning the public requesting the public information from the public RCD) ask for the moon. We’ll charge then $1/page.”

Barstow asked where would this decision go in the RCD’s own guidance and offered to withdraw her motion if Weber would withdraw her second.

Wade suggested that the information continue to be distributed until a decision is reached.

Lashbrook advised the board to adopt a policy immediately. She added that Miller sounded like she had some serious public information requests that she would be making of the RCD.

Barstow changed her motion, moving that the RCD policy should be that information requests be made in writing to the administrator (Whipp) and that the $1/page charge should be adopted.

Lashbrook said 50 cents/page was as high as they could go.

Bliss said the state RCD staffer had said they could go to a dollar.

Whipp said the county administration and county counsel charge 50 cents a page. The procedure is that after a written request is filed, the agency has 10 days to gather the documents, it calculates its costs, receives the funds from the requester and releases the documents, she said. It must all be done in 10 days unless there is a lot of research involved, she added.

Lashbrook commented: “That’s the law. You can’t deviate.”

Barstow said that if someone wanted backup documents, “that’s not appropriate,” because the RCD is a contractor and that the proper place to make requests would be to the state agencies that make the grants administered by the RCD.

Lashbrook advised that without making that change, “you’d be having to work three or four days straight (on these requests).”

Whipp declared that neither she, Huff nor Lashbrook were staff of the RCD. “We are contractors, not staff. We contract with the board. We don’t have to do what others direct us to do…We are being asked to distribute documents that we didn’t author … e-mails are public information and I have been distributing them in a timely manner … but it has been inferred that there is something unethical.”

Anderson asked if 50 cents or a dollar is actually enough to cover the overhead.

Whipp said “we” could not charge for her time, only for her leased copy machine.

Lashbrook intoned that now the board is exposed to state Public Record Act (PRA) requests.

Barstow modified her motion to “50 cents.”

At this point it was very clear that the board couldn’t distinguish between a request for public information and a request under the state PRA. Meanwhile, Whipp, who has to handle all the requests and distribution of information, responded to a comment by Miller about “inappropriate e-mail.”

Whipp said that every time she has to search board e-mails, she has to charge the RCD. She added that if documents on financial matters were requested, she would ask county counsel or refer the request to state agencies.

Barstow said the RCD was a private contractor.

Lashbrook again intoned that an immediate policy “wouldn’t hurt you.”

Whipp asked for a policy just to clarify what the public has a right to know and what it doesn’t have a right to know.

Lashbrook declared that the RCD had no responsibility to distribute e-mails at public request. This “has been clarified by four attorneys,” she said.

Anderson asked about the present state of the different motions.

Whipp said there were a lot of different motions at that moment.

Barstow said she would have liked to have seen this (perhaps this policy) earlier. But she withdrew her motion and Weber withdrew her second.

In fact, the agenda packet for the RCD board members contained a sample – admittedly an inaccurate document confusing a public information request log form with a PRA request—of what Barstow was complaining she had not seen.

Bliss moved for 50 cents “for every page disseminated” and for the same “time-line procedure the county follows.” Weber seconded the motion.

Ferrigno suggested that the RCD just put up the material on its website.

Whipp said that minutes are posted after they are adopted. The problem is with background information, she added.

Ferrigno asked how far back the website went.

Hildebrandt went to check.

Lashbrook declared that the RCD doesn’t want to “stop transparency.”


Someone mentioned the problem of Internet access. Someone else mentioned that the public library provides Internet access.

Bliss called for the question.

Miller told the RCD board that they hadn’t even read their own guidebook (available on the Internet), their agenda items were illegal for lack of adequate description, they had no staff reports, and that a state Public Records Act request was different form a public information request and log. “Your whole agenda doesn’t meet the Brown Act standards,” she said, “and the public has problems with your whole process.”

Bliss said Miller had exhausted her two minutes. “All those in favor – come on, let’s get ‘em,” he added.

Hildebrandt raised an issue about minute’s availability.

Miller, who had copies of the county public information act request forms, told the board to get their own county public information documents. “You have a county planning commissioner on your staff.”

County Planning Commissioner Lashbrook remarked: “Today’s staff job.” She added that the board “better cover yourself.”

Miller said the board’s agenda and motions were unclear and that they have to make coherent statements in their agenda of the actions to be taken.

Barstow replied that the board was appointed and volunteers. “Please let’s go on and not fall into this razzle-dazzle,” she added. “I’ve got a business to run.”

Barstow’s business was recently fined for non-compliance with pollution standards.

President Wade summarized: motion, second, discussion and public comment.

The vote was unanimous for 50 cents a page and a 10-day preparation period for dissemination of public documents to the public.

During the discussion, Miller had distributed to President Wade and Staff Whipp a genuine, authentic state Public Record Act request. Bliss snatched out of Wade’s hands, looked at it, rolled his eyes and passed on the Barstow.

Barstow asked for a point of clarification on Miller’s PRA, saying it was not what she thought it would be. It is formal and needs to be drafted in a formal way of receiving mail, she said.

The PRA was quite formal and was drafted according to the PRA law.

Whipp said Miller handed it to her without explanation.

Item # 9 CAL-Card Contract Addendum

Discussion on this item centered on a purchase card issued for funds from a Prop. 13 grant, which had to be approved before the card was used. Huff said it worked well for staff because they didn’t have to use their own credit cards for such purchases. Whipp said the card was used by McConnell, Lashbrook, Huff and herself, all members of the MRA-- for example, for things like a digital camera, she added.

Then Whipp read the PRA request from Miller and Steve Burke, which had nothing to do with staff credit cards. Lashbrook began to mumble and Huff tried to shut her up.

Barstow said Miller’s submission of the document showed “obvious hostile intent,” and the board needed to take it to the county counsel for advice.

Lashbrook advised that board members should accompany Whipp to the county counsel.

Anderson said the board needed to make a motion on that.

President Wade said the board could direct Whipp to go to county counsel.

Barstow said, “Some of these things were out of the board’s hands and involved agencies.”

Weber said that two board members should accompany Whipp to the county counsel’s office.

Item #10 Response letter to Department of Water Resources in Regard to Letter of Opposition of Grant Proposal

Apparently, Barstow was supposed to write the request to the DWR. She didn’t. The issue was tabled by the board. Lashbrook said there needed to be a committee on that.

Item #11 Future Relationship between EMRCD and Merced River Stakeholders

Weber set the stage by saying the grant funds were running out and that now there were two groups of stakeholders and the RCD no longer had the money to support the MRS.
Huff said that if MRS agreed, the RCD should seek more funding. Weber asked if that would be decided at the November meeting.

Which meeting was unclear: one of the two MRS meetings, the RCD meeting or the MRA annual dinner meeting.

Anderson said that if other entities believe they can do a better job, let them. He said he saw a better river, less tail water and less drainage, than before. He was very concerned about downstream issues.

Bliss said it was fine if there was someone to do it better. He said he was “big time pissed off. I have a life to live and can live it.”

Anderson said he could do anything but something that suggested confrontation. The board should wait for the next meeting but the RCD could say, “No more, let someone else run with it. I am totally delighted with the whole river alliance. I’m not that sort of person – no fights with people.”

Barstow said she was “dismayed and discouraged” by the fact that this has gotten to this point. “Heart-breaking.” It is important to have relationships with the river people. But what the board was getting in her view was “razzle-dazzle.”

Bliss declared himself a “conservationist.” He mentioned his grandchildren and even future great-grandchildren. He said he was “infuriated” watching people get hurt by “vindictive people.”

Anderson, saying he was reading a lot of books these days, announced his personal quest, a la David Korten’s The Great Turning. “Do we stay on this course and watch well-intentioned people get beat up? It makes me sick.” He said he wanted to be a part of that “new movement” to make it all better. “We have no time to fight,” he said. “Malia has a new baby.”

Barstow said that the board was good because it had balance between conservation and farming.

Lashbrook said she too came to the stakeholders before the RCD took over facilitation. The landowners met separately. Now they are doing it again, meeting the same day as the RCD/MRS meeting and calling themselves the MRS. She mentioned a grant for recreation and how, according to her, landowners shouted down recreation people at an MRS meeting. But, the MRS is supposed to be “diverse,” she said. “I am also an environmentalist,” she said. “This whole conflict has nothing to do with the river, nature or resources. I understand where Pat (Ferrigno) is coming from. I don’t understand the others.”

These would be the people she publicly declared war against at the July 20th RCD meeting and has been bullying people all over the county to take a stand against since they wrote in opposition to a grant that would have paid her something between $60,000-$75,000 and would continue to subsidize her other ventures, including her farm, her blueberries, her consulting business, her workshop schedule and expenses.

Wade said there were some “misguided things” in the relationship. Jennifer Vick, of the state Department of Fish and Game didn't let the RCD say anything in the MRS. He mentioned the Robinson riparian restoration project. He read from a document that the RCD initiated the MRS in 1998, along with the CDFG, Stillwater (consultants), Merced County, landowners, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the public, etc.

Lashbrook commented that “the RCD got narrowed down to the river.”

Wade said either the MRS or the RCD didn’t have an aggregate committee. (Wade has an aggregate project he is trying to get a permit for). Maybe the state doesn’t want an MRS, he said. Maybe CalFed doesn’t want it. He said there were other things that the RCD could look into, like, for example, water pollution in Hilmar.

Anderson said he lived in Hilmar and that, “We must be careful of what we say.”

Barstow said that this was undocumented information.

Lashbrook said there were two reporters in the room.

Miller said: the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, of which she is president, has been in the MRS since 1998 and that RCD participation began in 1999. She said she had been through RCD missteps involving the bogus UC habitat conservation plan, Vick, Mike Fuller and Teri Murrison, before Huff became facilitator. She said she was there for the UMPUG grant, the CAFF grant and the oversight issues with biologist John Vollmar. She said her group has been a consistent stakeholder and participant in RCD meetings throughout this period. She said she resented this lecturing and hostility from the RCD board. The RCD board doesn’t understand its own mandate and hasn’t read its own guidebook, available on the Internet (where Miller had read it) and CDs are available from their state association, she said. She added that she and others had told them there were problems with the RCD grant proposal this spring. She said she and others had suggested meetings with Huff and Lashbrook and other grant writers. These offers were rejected. Miller said the MRS and the RCD are not on the same page. The RCD is a stakeholder. “Until you sort that out we will continue to suppress your grant funds,” she said.

Weber asked how the RCD and the MRS could get together again and work for the river.

Ferrigno said the opposition to the grant was clearly expressed, but the RCD staff did not respond. She said that she represented farmers who owned 37,000 acres on or near the river and they had no representation – not in the RCD, a municipal advisory council or on the board of supervisors, or the planning commission (she was saying that planning Commissioner Lashbrook, who lives on the river, does not represent the interests of the river landowners Lashbrook did not attend the MRS meeting at Washington School, attended by most river landowners, including her husband).

Lashbrook said that the RCD asked Ferrigno’s brother to serve on the RCD board. (Later, Ferrigno having checked that out, reported it was a lie.) Lashbrook also said that the Raptor Center had so many members, it could have a representative on the board.

Later, Miller said there was no chance at all that the Merced County Board of Supervisors would appoint any member of the Raptor Center to any board. It was a hollow statement made by Lashbrook, an appointee to the Planning Commission and to the RCD board. And she knew it was a hollow statement.

Lashbrook nearly wailed that the RCD had never tried to keep anyone out.

Ferrigno said that her group had pointed out the downside of the UC Merced meeting place but the RCD had not listened, so the MRS held a separate meeting at Washington School. “To put that controversial meeting in an unknown location showed very little cooperation” between the MRS and the RCD-paid facilitator, she said. She concluded that she had no time to sit here and be lectured to by the RCD board.

Lashbrook wailed that Huff was going out of town when the decision to hold the meeting at UC Merced was made and “your complaint came in.” She added that Brad Sameulson, UC Merced environmental compliance officer, said “farmers come in to the campus all the time.”

Barstow said the funding for MRS facilitators runs out in November but “we’d like to see it continue.”

It was 4 p.m. so President Wade asked to table the last four items on the agenda, and the meeting was adjourned.

In conclusion we wish former MRS facilitator, Gwen Huff, the best of luck in her new position with the state Department of Water Resources as an event coordinator. We can’t wait to see how well her work will “fit” with local events like Lashbrook’s River Fair and McConnell’s outreach “deliverables.”

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General diatribe on the state of the state

Submitted: Sep 29, 2007

By Paul DeMarco, Petaluma

I've been absurdly busy lately, but I did catch up a little on my favorite web journal today. "Behind the Curve" was great.

The land use issue reminds me of an editorial I read several years ago from one of the Sacto Bee columnists. It was about the effects of the tax structure upon development. Because sales tax goes back to the municipalities and property tax stays with the state (I know it's not that simple, but good enough for this purpose), cities are in deep competition for big box retail and auto dealerships. When Rohnert Park sucked the shoppers down there, Santa Rosa responded by blighting Santa Rosa Av. with a traffic-freezing series of haphazard big stores--probably annexing rural land in the process--to bring those sales tax dollars back in. As long as the taxes are structured this way, this will always happen.

On a broader note, I spent 12 hours on Tuesday at a retreat listening to four subject experts on the arts, health & human services, the environment and education. In all fields, in gory detail in each one, we heard how the sharp cut in or total absence of public funds has had very bad effects that philanthropy can't cure. This ridiculous state of public affairs is not the case in all states. It's the case in a state that is seeing the long-term effect of Prop 13. That things is still considered a sacred cow rather than an unholy monster. If ever there needs to be an effort from Don Quixote, in a last and long-term effort to save the state, the evils of Prop 13 needs to be understood. I know that its partner is the ridiculous growth in population so greedily encouraged by those who profit from it, but at this point we could have 5 million fewer people here and the
paralysis in public policy would still prevail.

I like my low property tax. The fact that a new buyer next door would pay 3 times as much in property tax as I do wouldn't bother my conscience. But I don't like being 51st (after even D.C.) in certain measures of schoolspending. I don't like that Alabama spends $3 per citizen on the arts each year while we spend 3 cents. I don't like to see the state park system stripped down where it can't maintain what it's got, nor acquire
anything new. I don't like having some of the worst roads in the nation. I don't like knowing that too many kids don't have health insurance, that there's no significant money for prevention of alcohol and drug abuse, or that the only thing the county spends money on is law enforcement. I don't like a tax structure that enriches the landed elite like some 17th century French province.

I suppose it's all going to hell--to a breakdown that will shock us, and throw us back on to whatever skills and resources we have managed to accumulate in our years. Maybe that's already written into the plot. But until that happens, maybe we can hone our lance on another windmill.

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Points of Order concerning the East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007

Submitted: Sep 25, 2007

To: East Merced Resource Conservation District Board of Directors

From: San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center; Protect Our Water; San Joaquin Valley Conservancy; Merced River Valley Association; Planada Association; Planada Community Development Co.; Le Grand Association; Stanislaus Natural Heritage

Re: Points of Order concerning the East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007

Date: Sept. 24, 2007

East Merced RCD Board of Directors: Via: email and Hand Delivered


The East Merced RCD is not the Merced River Stakeholders, which are having its meeting at Washington School at this moment. The East Merced RCD is one Merced River stakeholder among many. In holding of this meeting at UC Merced, the East Merced RCD has greatly exceeded its statutory status as a legislative body and has illegally asserted authority over the Merced River Stakeholders. The East Merced RCD has no legal authority to hold a meeting of the Merced River Stakeholders. Gwen Huff, East Merced RCD staff/Merced Alliance Lower Merced River Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders facilitator, was not authorized by the Merced River Stakeholders to convene this meeting here at UC Merced while the stakeholders are meeting at the Washington School.

The meeting we are attending is an East Merced RCD meeting. The East Merced RCD board of directors is presently illegally constituted under CARCD Guidebook.

The East Merced RCD is a legislative body, whose board members are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors. According to the California CARCD Guidebook, the East Merced RCD is subject to the Ralph Brown Act governing public meetings.

The Merced River Stakeholders group, meeting presently at Washington School, is not a
legislative body, by agreement among stakeholders after years of discussion of governance.

This East Merced RCD meeting is violating the Brown Act in the following ways:

1. There are more than two board members of the RCD in attendance; the RCD board meeting agenda of September 26 contains action items concerning the Merced River Stakeholders; the combination of RCD board members attending this meeting under the false claim that it is a Merced River Stakeholders meeting and the action items these board members will vote on in two days, is a major violation of the Brown Act. This pattern, which has been going on for some time, constitutes a continual violation by the East Merced RCD of the Brown Act;

2. This East Merced RCD meeting we are now attending was improperly noticed: it was not posted at the RCD office; it was not posted on the Merced River Stakeholders website or the East Merced RCD website or the Merced River Alliance website;

3. This East Merced RCD meeting agenda is inadequately descriptive under the Brown Act for a public agency agenda;

4. The East Merced RCD facilitator has no authority to unilaterally decide on the
location for a Merced River Stakeholder meeting in the face of stakeholder opposition;

5. The East Merced RCD had no authority to vote in its last meeting to suppress public
documents produced by Merced River Stakeholders because that suppression violated the
state RCD Guidelines and constituted several violations of the Brown Act;

6. The East Merced RCD is making decisions about the Merced River Stakeholders at their monthly board meetings in multiple violations of the Brown Act;

7. It is our understanding from the RCD board meeting of August 15, that an item will be
introduced into this evening's RCD meeting by RCD board member, Cathy Weber, to protest the heading of a recent letter that successfully protested an RCD grant proposal. This agenda item would be illegal on its face because the RCD board, at the same meeting, voted unanimously on an item not on its agenda, to suppress distribution of this public letter to members of the Merced River Stakeholders for their next meeting. It is illegal because it violates multiple Brown Act provisions for agenda formation.

The Merced River Stakeholders now meeting at Washington School openly participated in the process surrounding the denied grant proposal, sharing our concerns and openly distributing material expressing our opposition. The East Merced RCD, the Lower Merced River Watershed coordinator and the Merced River Alliance continually suppressed public information and public documents concerning not just the grant proposal but the future of river itself.

For the record, Merced River Stakeholders will deal with violations of the California Law on Conflict-of-Interest at a later date.

Because this meeting is not legally compliant, it should adjourn now.

Agendas of East Merced RCD and Merced River Stakeholder meetings and e-mails pertaining to the unlawful topics discussed in this letter are included below:

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: Gwen Huff
Sent: Friday, May 25, 2007 12:07 PM
Subject: EMRCD Grant Proposal

Greetings Stakeholders –

As the current facilitator of the Merced River Stakeholders (funded through current grants to the East Merced Resource Conservation District [EMRCD]), I am sending out a message from the EMRCD Board of Directors. Information for this message was compiled by me, as the MRS facilitator and staff of EMRCD, and reviewed and approved by those EMRCD directors present at the May EMRCD Board Meeting, and other EMRCD staff.

Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

The purpose of this letter is to clarify some logistics in the writing and submitting of our grant proposal to develop a Lower Merced River Watershed Management Plan. A summary of that proposal, in narrative form, is attached to this email.

While we have had a very strong measure of support throughout the community, the response from regular attendees at the Merced River Stakeholders group has been mixed. The members in opposition feel very strongly about certain points, which will be addressed further down, while others are very supportive. The EMRCD is at the service of all stakeholders in Eastern Merced County, and while we appreciate that not everyone is in agreement about this grant proposal, we feel that it will be valuable for our community and that there is ample support to justify proceeding with the submission of a full proposal.

At our regular Board meeting Wednesday May 23rd, at which the following Board members were present, Glenn Anderson, Cathy Weber, Karen Barstow and Bernard Wade, the Board unanimously passed the following resolution, with comments:

Cathy Weber I support this grant because there have been gaps of information to make recommendations and “full-picture” choices for the Merced River Watershed. I see a need for this plan to help decision makers and citizens make informed decisions about conservation issues in the watershed.
Karen Barstow I’m a farmer and landowner and I support the proposal because it is in line with State expectations of bringing all of us together on an issue that is vital to all of us; California’s most critical issue-water.
Glenn Anderson I’m a 72 year-old farmer, landowner, life-long appreciator of the river, and someone who has watched the abuse of the river. Our district has now begun a journey of community appreciation of this river and we need to continue this work to expand our community involvement.
Bernie Wade I’m submitting my support of this proposal. It is the imperative continuation to preserve, conserve and enhance the Merced Watershed. It is important that we continue scientific studies and analysis to preserve this natural resource.
Glenn Anderson moved to adopt resolution 2007-02 to submit the Watershed Management Plan grant application.
Cathy Weber seconded motion. MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.

We would like to include here the Mission and Purpose, Goals and Objectives of the Merced River Stakeholders (MRS), as stated in the Merced River Stakeholders Group Charter, adopted January 27, 2003.

Mission and Purpose
Provide a collaborative forum for coordination and gathering and sharing of information about the Merced River watershed. Protect and enhance the lower Merced River watershed such that the natural processes, ecosystems and its unique characteristics are conserved and restored. Foster voluntary stewardship in advance of habitat degradation and regulatory action. Strive for a balanced level of human interaction within the watershed.

Goals and Objectives
Educate the public about the Merced River watershed and its importance. Foster and improve communication among affected private individuals, interested citizens, commercial interests, educational institutes and representatives of local, state and federal agencies.

Additionally, from MRS meeting minutes of April 23, 2003;
The Governance Committee gave a report in which they stated that they are not in agreement that a formalized voting mechanism is necessary to conduct stakeholder meetings.

The EMRCD is a strong supporter of the Merced River Stakeholders, as evidenced by board member participation in MRS meetings, as well as long-term financial support to facilitate these meetings. We also recognize that the MRS has no mechanism for voting and cannot, as a group, support or oppose any item brought before them. They may, however, provide input. Indeed, MRS input can greatly improve projects that are within the watershed.

It is in this spirit that EMRCD has sought input from the MRS group on the development of the Lower Merced Watershed Management Plan. We have also sought input from other stakeholders within the watershed that do not attend the MRS meetings.

Regarding concerns from those in opposition:
MRS not notified before concept proposal submitted
We would like to acknowledge that earlier notification of the grant opportunity to the MRS would have been possible. At the January MRS meeting the grant opportunity was unknown to EMRCD and, therefore, could not have been communicated at that meeting. When this information was known February 13th, between MRS meetings, communication could have been made to stakeholders notifying them of the funder’s priorities, the deadline for grant submission and the intent of EMRCD to develop a concept proposal. No formal endorsement could have been gained - as the MRS has no mechanism for this. But input on direction could have been sought at that time. However, the MRS group was first informed of the process at the March 19th meeting. At which point a concept proposal had been developed and submitted by the deadline of March 16th, three days prior to the MRS meeting.

As there was allowance for modification from the concept proposal to the final proposal (should the EMRCD be invited to advance to a full proposal), the intention was to gain input from the stakeholders on what modifications could be made to improve the direction and content of the proposal. There was a constraint on what changes could be made. CalFed (the funder) had identified the Merced River as a high priority for developing a Watershed Management Plan for this particular round of funding. Therefore, the proposal needed to retain the basic direction of developing a management plan. But input on modifying the concept proposal, before writing and submitting a final proposal, was sought of MRS. As there are many stakeholders in the watershed beyond those who meet at the regular MRS meeting, and the EMRCD is at the service of all in Eastern Merced County, EMRCD was soliciting input from the MRS at this point, not asking for approval or endorsement, as there is no mechanism for that. We regret that not informing the MRS of the grant opportunity in February has caused some to feel excluded from the process. In the future, as long as EMRCD and MRS continue to have a working relationship, the EMRCD will inform the MRS before a concept proposal is submitted, with every effort to allow time to gather input for developing the proposal.

Staff Positions
The EMRCD acknowledges that neither job descriptions nor applicant qualifications were drafted for the concept proposal. This was not a requirement for submission of the proposal. However, these job descriptions will be in place before the final proposal is submitted. Additionally, posting of job opportunities with the EMRCD will be made if awarded the grant and as they become available.

Conflict of Interest?
An EMRCD associate director (who, in this case, is on the planning commission) has no voting rights and as such cannot vote to support or oppose any grant. There is no impropriety in an EMRCD board member, whether full or associate, being on the planning commission. Nor is there any impropriety in an EMRCD associate board member taking a staff position with the EMRCD.

Most, if not all, entities that rely on grant funding to further their mission and goals, pursue funding with their staff time, in order to bring the funds to their organization. Such is the case for EMRCD. The grant funds that are brought in are obligated to be spent on specific tasks laid out in the contract with the funding agency. The funding agency reviews, very closely, the progress of the grant and how the funds are spent. Members of the EMRCD board serve as such without any monetary compensation, and would receive none should the Watershed Management Plan be funded. There is no conflict of interest.

For more information on the authority under which the resource conservation districts operate, you may go to the following website:

We thank you for your interest in resource issues of Eastern Merced County and look forward to continuing to work with you on watershed conservation issues.

EMRCD Board of Directors

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: 'Pat Ferrigno' ; 'Lydia Miller' ; ; 'Gail Bettencourt'
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2007 11:01 AM
Subject: RE: Proposed Meeting

Thank you very much, Pat, for the invitation to your home and for organizing the points of discussion. I believe they are well laid out. I would also like to suggest inviting Cathy Weber, as she has been an active stakeholder as well as a board member of EMRCD. Two board members may be present and not violate the Brown Act.

My availability is somewhat limited mid-September, but I am available September 9, 10, 11 and possibly the 12th. The next day I am leaving for a wedding in New York and will return on Monday the 17th.

Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: 'Pat Ferrigno' ; 'SJRRC' ; 'Raptorctr' ; 'Bernard Wade' ; ; 'Mike Bettencourt' ; 'Sharon Dragovich'
Cc: 'Teri Murrison'
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2007 2:55 PM
Subject: RE: MRS Agenda

Pat –

Yes – the agenda item “MRS and Grant Development” is intended to encompass any aspect of this whole issue. I hope that the amount of time will be adequate. Also, we can - and probably will –discuss expectations of a facilitator to convey the perspective of stakeholders to the EMRCD and other organizations.

Cathy Weber requested that at least some of the discussion happen in the first 45 minutes of the meeting because she has a conflict in her schedule with another important meeting. Since Cathy has been so involved with the stakeholders, I would like to honor that request. It is a bit awkward, breaking it up that way, though.

Regarding your offer to cover printing costs of the Raptor Center’s letter, thank you. However, we can cover those expenses. Since the meeting is dedicated almost completely to related MRS issues, I can bring copies to the meeting. The board has directed me not to distribute the letter with the meeting announcement, but it can certainly be available at the meeting. And you are free to circulate it before hand, if you wish. Please let me know if you plan on bringing copies so that we do not duplicate our work.

Lastly, we will be meeting in a conference room at UC Merced that holds 50 people. That should do. And thanks for refreshments.

Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

----- Original Message -----
From: Cathy Weber
To: Gwen Huff
Cc: ; Pat Ferrigno ; Karen L Whipp ; Lydia Miller
Sent: Sunday, September 16, 2007 1:01 PM
Subject: MRS meeting

Dear Gwen,

I just returned home and have found many messages on my email. I'm very sorry if I, as an individual and not the EMRCD, have added to problems within the MRS member community.

Please set the agenda in a way that is best for all the members to deal with important issues. I am sorry that I won't be at the full meeting; but as a member of the Library Advisory Commission, I have a greater obligation to attend a 7:00 meeting in downtown Merced. In my request that the agenda item dealing with the MRS and EMRCD roles be placed early, I had no idea that it would create any type of problem.

I will come to the first part of the meeting and hope I have the opportunity to make one comment before I need to leave, a comment that is separate from the agenda item discussion. I know we have allowed other members to do so. But, please, place the agenda item at whatever time on the agenda that will make it most effective.

I am sorry that I won't be there for what I think is a very important discussion. I believe I have some perspective, being a member of both the MRS and the EMRCD. I care about both organizations deeply. I was always in favor of the MRS having more autonomy and decision making power with a process for it. I wanted to develop a plan for that through the governance committee process.

I am deeply concerned and saddened by what I feel is a misunderstanding. I know the EMRCD board members care a great deal about the resources of the river within our job of caring for and educating about all the resources of eastern Merced County. I feel that we have, unwittingly, been made villains when we thought that what we were doing all along was above-board and for the benefit of the County.

Please don't let the Board take the blame for the agenda item placement, or you for honoring my request. The fault for that is all mine. Again, I made my request, because I care about the whole discussion. I do hope these building misunderstandings can be cleared so we can meet together and support river restoration.

Cathy Weber

----- Original Message -----
From: Gwen Huff
To: Gwen Huff
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 6:03 PM
Subject: MRS Meeting Reminder at UC Merced

Dear Stakeholders -

You may have recently received an email from SJRRC (San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center), Lydia Miller's organization, with a meeting announcement for the Merced River Stakeholders this Monday, Sept 24th at Washington School. That meeting is not sponsored by the East Merced Resource Conservation District and the announcement was not forwarded by me, as facilitator. I am the current facilitator, hired by the EMRCD to conduct the regular Merced River Stakeholders meeting on the 24th at UC Merced. The proposed presenters at the Washington School meeting have not been contacted by Ms. Miller and neither Karen Whipp, Cindy Lashbrook, Cathy Weber, Nancy McConnell nor I will be there. We will be attending the Merced River Stakeholders meeting at UC Merced. You will find the agenda below.

We have been told we can use the parking lot up at the top of the hill, very close to the library where we are meeting. Parking will be free in that lot after 5pm. Detailed directions are at the bottom of the agenda.

It is regretful that you are subject to the confusion generated by the disagreements between a few members of the Merced River Stakeholders, myself and the EMRCD. At our Sept 24th meeting we will be discussing future facilitation of the MRS, as the EMRCD funding to do this will be finished this calendar year. I hope that you will be able to attend this important meeting. Please contact me if you have questions or concerns.


Gwen Huff
Watershed Coordinator
East Merced Resource Conservation District
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734
Merced River Stakeholders
September 24, 2007
Kolligian Library, Room 232, UC Merced
Nearby and Free Parking


6:00 Introductions, Minutes Approval, Agenda Review

6:10 Updates
Merced Irrigation District

6:20 Merced River Stakeholders Facilitation
Group Discussion

7:10 BREAK

7:25 Merced River Stakeholders and Grant Development
Group Discussion

7:50 Merced County Planning Department Jeff Wilson
Jeff will provide us with an overview of balancing gravel mining with other natural resource interests in Merced County.

8:15 Announcements

8:25 Schedule Next meeting and wrap up
(Plus/Delta, next meeting speakers, refreshments)

For more information, please contact Gwen Huff at
(559) 497-5033 or

From Highway 99, take the “G” Street exit and cross town to Yosemite Avenue and turn right onto Yosemite. Turn left on Lake Road and proceed approximately one mile to the campus. Turn right into the first campus entry (Scholars Lane) and take this up the hill to the end of the road. Make a left by the Round-A-Bout. The library and its parking lot are here. Park anywhere there are available stalls. Here is a link to a campus map Once you’ve entered the library, take the elevator to the second floor – we will be meeting in room 232.

Past meeting minutes can be found at




USDA Office
Conference Room
2135 W. Wardrobe Avenue
Merced, CA 95340

Wednesday, August 15, 2007, 1:00 p.m.
Visit us on the web at
Call EMRCD for more information 209-723-6755
Fax EMRCD for more information 209-723-0880
To be added to the EMRCD agenda mailing list, please send a letter to the RCD at the above address by the 3rd day of the month preceding the meeting.





* 4. Consent Agenda

# a. Minutes of the July 18, 2007 EMRCD Board Meeting
# b. Treasury Report (July and August ‘07)
# c. DOC II and Prop 13 Grant Updates

5. Correspondence/Information Only

a. Letters
1. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
# b. Meeting Notices and Reports
1. CSDA e-NEWS July 23, 2007
2. CSDA e-NEWS July 30, 2007
3. California Watershed e-News July 30, 2007
c. Newsletters and Flyers (available to review at meeting)
1. CSDA Alliance Brochure
2. CSDA Conference Oct 1-4 2007
3. San Joaquin River Restoration Program
4. NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee Agenda
5. NACD Forestry Notes (June 2007)
6. NACD Forestry Notes (July 2007)
7. MED&R-Merced Developments (Winter 2007)
8. Shell Pipeline Company LP Safety Information
d. Office Election Resolution Ballet Information for Insurance Board

For information only.

6. Written and Oral Updates

a. NRCS Update Malia Hildebrandt
b. Watershed Coordinator Update (DOC II) Gwen Huff/
Cindy Lashbrook

c. Merced River Alliance (Prop 13) Update Karen Whipp

* 7. Planning for Annexation

For discussion and possible action.

8. Board Member Participation with Merced County Landuse
Issues and General Plan Updates

Board members come prepared to discuss current land use
issues and ways to be involved.

9. Old Business

a. Board Member Recruitment
b. Other Old Business

* 10. Priority Action Topic for Next EMRCD Agenda

For discussion and possible action.

11. Next EMRCD Board Meeting

The next EMRCD Board Meeting is scheduled for
Wednesday, Sept 19, 2007 in the USDA Office Conference Room,
2135 West Wardrobe Avenue, Merced, CA.

* 12. Adjournment of the Regular EMRCD Board Meeting, August 15, 2007

* Action
# Attachment
+ Enclosure

Date Agenda Posted August 10, 2007
Please remove after August 16, 2007__

Meeting Minutes of the
Wednesday, August 15, 2007, 1:00 p.m.
Conference Room, 2135 W. Wardrobe Ave., Merced, CA 95340
Call EMRCD for more information (209-723-6755)

Directors Present: Cathy Weber, Glenn Anderson, Bernard Wade, Bob Bliss
Directors Absent: Karen Barstow, Tony Azevedo
Others Present: Karen Whipp, EMRCD contract personnel
Cindy Lashbrook, EMRCD contract personnel and associate director (non-voting member)
Gwen Huff, EMRCD contract personnel
Malia Hildebrandt, NRCS staff
Ken Leap, Interested Citizen
Bill Hatch, Interested Citizen

Item #
President Bernie Wade called meeting to order at 1:20 pm.




Minutes of the July 18, 2007 EMRCD Board Meeting
Treasury Report June and July
DOC and Prop 13 Updates
Cathy Weber moved to approve the consent agenda.
Bob Bliss seconded the motion.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
b. Meeting Notices and Reports
CSDA e-NEWS July 23, 2007
CSDA e-NEWS July 30, 2007
California Watershed e-News July 30, 2007
c. Newsletters (available to review at the meeting)
CSDA Alliance Brochure
CSDA Conference October 1-4, 2007
NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee Agenda
NACD Forestry Notes (June 2007)
NACD Forestry Notes (July 2007)
MED&R-Merced Developments (Winter 2007)
Shell Pipeline Company LP Safety Information
d. Office Election Resolution Ballet Information for Insurance Board
So noted.

Following the review of the information items, Cathy Weber moved to have the September EMRCD Board meeting on September 26, 2007.
Seconded by Glenn Anderson.

Natural Resources Conservation Service Report, Malia Hildebrandt (A written report was submitted at meeting and will be attached to agenda packets presented at the EMRCD Board meeting)
Watershed Coordinator--DOC Report, Gwen Huff (A written report was submitted at meeting and will be attached to agenda packets presented at the EMRCD Board meeting)

During the report Gwen Huff stated that Lydia Miller asked her to send a rebuttal letter against the DWR grant proposal to all of the Merced River Stakeholders.
Bob Bliss moved that Gwen Huff contract is with the East Merced Resource Conservation District is not authorized to send the letter.
Seconded by Glenn Anderson

Merced River Alliance--Prop 13 Report, Karen Whipp and Cindy Lashbrook (Written reports were submitted at meeting and will be attached to agenda packets presented at the EMRCD Board meeting.)

An oral report was given.

There was board member discussion.

a. Board recruitment: There was brief discussion
b. Other business: no discussion
The Priority Topic for next month will be to discuss mechanism for immediate calls to action, discussions for funding sources and review the Strategic Plan.

The next EMRCD is scheduled for Wednesday, September 26, 2007, 1:00 pm in the USDA Office Conference Room, 2135 West Wardrobe Avenue, Merced, CA






UC Cooperative Extension
2145 W. Wardrobe Avenue
Merced, CA 95340

Wednesday, September 26, 2007, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Visit us on the web at
Call EMRCD for more information 209-723-6755
Fax EMRCD for more information 209-723-0880
To be added to the EMRCD agenda mailing list, please send a letter to the RCD at the above address by the 3rd day of the month preceding the meeting.





* 4. Consent Agenda

# a. Minutes of the August 15, 2007 EMRCD Board Meeting
# b. Treasury Report
# c. DOC II and Prop 13 Grant Updates

5. Correspondence/Information Only

a. Letters
1. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
# b. Meeting Notices and Reports
1. CSDA e-NEWS September 4, 2007
2. CSDA e-NEWS September 10, 2007
3. CSDA e-NEWS September 17, 2007
4. US Department of the Interior Submittal of
Fiscal Year 2008 Program Proposals
5. California Association of Resource Conservation
Districts – San Joaquin Valley Agenda for the Fall
Area Meeting
6. Understanding the Ralph M. Brown Act
c. Newsletters and Flyers (available to review at meeting)
1. CSDA July – August 2007 Magazine
2. National Woodlands Magazine
3. Noxious Times
4. Forestry Notes
5. Great Valley News
6. Conservation Connection
7. EcoAnalysts
8. NACD News and Views
9. Forestland Steward
10. Water Conservation News

For information only.

6. Written and Oral Updates

a. NRCS Update Malia Hildebrandt
b. Watershed Coordinator Update (DOC II) Gwen Huff/
Cindy Lashbrook
c. Merced River Alliance (Prop 13) Update Karen Whipp

* 7 Recording EMRCD Board Meetings Cathy Weber
For discussion and possible

*# 8. Procedures for Requesting Public Information Karen Whipp

Recommend the EMRCD Board adopt procedures
for requesting public information.

*# 9. CAL-Card Contract Addendum Merced, CA 95340 Karen Whipp

Recommend the EMRCD Board authorize the EMRCD
Board President to sign the contract addendum and resolution.

* 10. Response letter to Department of Water Resources in Karen Barstow
Regard to Letters of Opposition of Grant Proposal

For discussion and possible action.

* 11. Future Relationship Between EMRCD and Merced
River Stakeholders

For discussion and possible action.

* 12. Mechanism for Immediate Calls to Action

For discussion and possible action.

* 13. Potential Funding Sources

For discussion and possible action.

14. Old Business

a. Planning of Annexation
b. Board Member Recruitment
c. Other Old Business

* 15. Priority Action Topic for Next EMRCD Agenda

Review the EMRCD Strategic Plan.

16. Next EMRCD Board Meeting

The next EMRCD Board Meeting is scheduled for
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 in the USDA Office Conference Room,
2135 West Wardrobe Avenue, Merced, CA.

* 17. Adjournment of the Regular EMRCD Board Meeting, September 26, 2007

* Action
# Attachment
+ Enclosure

Date Agenda Posted September 21, 2007
Please remove after September 26, 2007__

East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007, 6 p.m.


I am Bryant Owens, speaking on behalf of the Planada Community Association, and other signatories to the suppressed letter of opposition Merced River Stakeholders filed against the recent East Merced RCD grant proposal

I am summarizing a letter I am submitting to make the legal record.

The meeting we are now attending is illegal and should be adjourned and any river stakeholders present should go to the Merced River Stakeholders meeting sponsored by the Bettencourt Family and other river property owners at Washington School.

For these reasons and others, the meeting we are attending is illegal:

1. The East Merced RCD is a member of the Merced River Stakeholders group, not its leader
in any sense;

2. The East Merced RCD has no authority to decide on the agenda or location of a Merced River Stakeholders meeting, except as the stakeholders agree. The Merced River Stakeholders disagree and are at this moment holding their meeting at the Washington

3. The East Merced RCD board of directors, appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors, is at present an illegally constituted legislative body;

4. The Merced River Stakeholders is not a legislative body, by common stakeholder decision after several years of discussion on its governance;

5. This illegally constituted legislative body has committed multiple violations of the California Association of RCD Guidebook and the Ralph Brown Act in the past, including the calling of this meeting and future actions already agendized on the next East Merced RCD board meeting;

6. Several individuals representing the East Merced RCD present at this meeting are committing violations of the California Law of Conflict of Interest.

To make the legal record, I am submitting our full letter and supporting documents to the East Merced RCD on the illegality of the meeting we are presently attending.

We urge the East Merced RCD board to adjourn this meeting.

East Merced RCD meeting at UC Merced, Sept. 24, 2007, 6 p.m.

David Corser, Planada Community Association, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, et al. and representing other Merced River Stakeholders

The minutes of the July Merced River Stakeholders meeting cannot be approved here tonight because:

1. The only body authorized to approve Merced River Stakeholders minutes is the Merced River Stakeholders, meeting at this moment at Washington School.
2. This is an East Merced RCD meeting, not a Merced River Stakeholders meeting.
3. East Merced RCD is a legislative body governed by the Brown Act.
4. It must include in these minutes the minutes of the last East Merced RCD meeting, which does not include any reference to this unlawful meeting here.
5. It must also include its agenda and minutes pertaining to Item #6 in its last meeting, during which it took an unlawful vote to suppress a public letter of protest from Merced River Stakeholders to an East Merced RCD grant proposal, which the state agency rejected because of that and other letters and petitions from Merced River Stakeholders against it.
6. If East Merced RCD board members and staff and staff of the Merced River Alliance assert that they constitute a subcommittee of the East Merced RCD that has unlawfully convened this present meeting, they must show in East Merced RCD minutes how their authority was generated by board action.
7. They cannot do this because the board explicitly tabled discussion of establishing a subcommittee at its last meeting. East Merced RCD August meeting notes clearly shows this.
8. Therefore, we are attending a meeting unlawfully convened by the East Merced RCD pretending to be a Merced River Stakeholders meeting (when that meeting is going on simultaneously at the Washington School) and the East Merced RCD cannot even justify this meeting in terms of its own authority because it has not authorized “subcommittees” or the like of the board to act between its regular meetings.
9. By convening this meeting at UC Merced against the express wishes of the largest group of stakeholders, the Merced River Stakeholders facilitator has abdicated her authority as the Merced River Stakeholders facilitator.
10. Why have East Merced RCD staff and board members been harassing Merced River stakeholders with a barrage of emails and phone calls to attend this unlawful meeting? Because this is a naked power play by disgruntled East Merced RCD board members and staff and the Merced River Alliance to silence the Merced River Stakeholders.
11. To defend the health of the Lower Merced River, Merccd River Stakeholders wrote publicly to oppose the East Merced RCD grant proposal. Although the best evidence of spiteful reaction is convening this unlawful meeting, there is other evidence: the Merced River Alliance newsletter no longer includes any mention of the Merced River Stakeholders; and the Stakeholders’ independent website was discontinued and its domain is up for sale.
We recommend this unlawful meeting be adjourned immediately.

Subject: Moving on
Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2007 12:18:58 -0700

Dear Stakeholders -

For those of you not at last nights meeting at UC Merced, I would like to let you know that I am moving to Sacramento and will be resigning from the East Merced RCD and as facilitator of the Merced River Stakeholders group.

The East Merced RCD has funding to facilitate one more MRS meeting, to be held November 19th. After that time, current funding from EMRCD grants to facilitate the stakeholders will cease. At the November meeting you will have the opportunity to set a course for the stakeholders and decide how you would like to move forward with this change of circumstances. I hope that you will be able to attend this important meeting. At the direction of the MRS, we are seeking a facilitator for that meeting and the meeting notification will be forthcoming.

Unfortunately, some members of the MRS have decided to form a separate organization and are using the name Merced River Stakeholders. This will, no doubt, be causing some confusion with meeting notifications. Please note that communications from the East Merced Resource Conservation District (EMRCD) and it's staff (Cindy Lashbrook and Karen Whipp) will relate to the MRS meetings that are facilitated by the EMRCD.

It has been a pleasure working with you for the last year and half. The MRS is a very special and important group. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.


Gwen Huff
Home Office (559) 497-5033
Mobile (559) 250-4734

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